Thursday, November 13, 2008

Adobe shows off Captivate 4 and the Adobe eLearning Suite

At the Adobe Learning Summit in San Jose, November 10th, Adobe showed several exciting new features from the next version of Captivate and from the up-coming eLearning Suite.


Adobe Captivate 'Next'
I have been beta testing Captivate 4 for several months, so I was pleased to be invited by Adobe to the Adobe Learning Summit in San Jose on Monday 10th November.

At the Adobe Learning Summit, Adobe demonstrated the next version of Captivate, and also previewed the new Adobe eLearning Suite. Adobe says it's OK to blog about the next version of Captivate and the up-coming eLearning Suite, so here we go.

Following is a rundown of the major new features of Adobe Captivate 'next' (4) and the Adobe eLearning Suite as demonstrated at the Adobe Learning Summit by RJ Jacquez, Senior Product Evangelist at Adobe. Over the next few weeks I intend to flesh out details of each of the following features with screen shots and samples. With luck I'l also have time to look at some of the myriad new features not covered below.

AIR review tool
Perhaps the most exciting new feature in Captivate 4 is the AIR Review feature.

Everywhere I have worked over the last 10 years or so (and I've worked with a lot of companies since I was a contractor for most of that time) had a different method for testing and reviewing content. Content has to be tested for factual accuracy, spelling and grammar, and properly working features and functionality. Typically this testing must be done by a number of testers, each with a different interest in the project.

As testers explore the project, they are required to make notes of errors, omissions and questions they encounter. Typically these notes are then reported in a spreadsheet, a Word doc, via email, or occasionally through a more robust tracking system.

As a developer, the single biggest flaw I have experienced with any testing and reporting methods is the disconnect between the tested project and the feedback given by the testers. Adobe Captivate 4 addresses this in a wonderful way.

When a project is ready for testing the developer can publish the project as a review app. The review app can be emailed out to testers, and it contains 2 things

1 - An Adobe AIR wrapper that contains review tools.
2 - The published project.

Reviewers run the review app on their desktop. If they do not already have the Adobe AIR runtime in stalled, they are prompted to install it on launch. IT needs to be aware that the AIR installer requires local admin rights to install.

Once installed, the reviewer can run through the Captivate 4 project just like normal. The project sits inside the AIR review application and whenever the reviewer wants to record some feedback, he can pause the Captivate playback and type the feedback into a dialogue box. The feedback is time stamped so that it syncs to an exact moment in the Captivate project.

Comments are saved in an xml file that the user can email back to the developer. Alternatively the comments can be stored in a shared network location so that comments from every reviewer can be housed in the same location.

Once reviewers have recorded their feedback, the developer can import the comments to his Captivate source file. If a shared location is used then all comments from all reviewers can be imported at once. Comments appear alongside the project in the editing window. As the developer clicks on each comment in turn, Captivate automatically navigates to the correct slide and the correct moment in the slide so that the developer can immediately see exactly what the tester could see and does not have to spend time searching for it.

If the developer makes a change based on the feedback, he can mark the item as fixed. On the other hand if the developer does not agree that a change is required, or if he has a question about the feedback, he can type a note to that effect and send that information back to the tester. This is particularly effective when a shared location is used for the comments, because the comment file is updated and reviewers can relaunch their AIR application to see the developer's feedback - again directly linked to the moment in the Captivate project that the feedback is referencing.

This is an extremely exiting feature that is bound to be a significant productivity enhancement for those working in teams.

Custom user variables
Another exciting things RJ showed us was custom variables in Adobe Captivate. He demonstrated adding a login screen to a Captivate project, saving the user name in a custom variable, and then reusing the variable later in the project to personalize the user experience. In his example, RJ showed us how to embed the variable into a caption, using the syntax $$myVar$$ so that instructions to the user could use the recorded name, instead of a non-personal command.

Click the next button to continue.


becomes

$$userName$$, click the next button to continue.

Which the user sees in the published file as

John, click the next button to continue.

Basic drawing tools
Something Captivate has long been missing is basic drawing tools. We can add a lot to our training when we can draw basic shapes - circle/ellipse, rectangle/square, polygon. Thankfully the wonderful Adobe engineers have been able to plug this gap in Captivate, allowing us to now create clean vector shapes in our projects. No gradient fill yet, but alpha transparency is supported.

The really cool thing about these new drawing tools is that they we can add captions to them - so we could build flow charts or other diagrams with our custom captions.

Flash Widgets
One of my biggest issues with Captivate as a serious eLearning tool, up to now, has been the limited feature set and the difficulty in extending that feature set. It has long been known that we can add Flash video and interactive swf content into Captivate, but doing so is not as simple as we would like, and there is no easy way to communicate data between the imported content and the host Captivate movie.

Captivate 4 will change this significantly.

First, with custom variables with will be easier to swap data between imported content and the host project.

Second, Adobe has introduced Widgets to Captivate 4. Widgets are specially formatted Flash swf files that know how to communicate with the host Captivate project. These are very similar to Flash components and Authorware Knowledge Objects, in that developers are able to create pre-configured logic and visual components which accept parameters when inserted into Captivate. These components are then able to track user input (say, the selection of a value in a combo box) and utilize that input elsewhere in the project. So imagine collecting scores or an array of values so that you can dynamically modify what the user sees as he progresses through your Captivate project.

Adobe will deploy a number of sample widgets with the final product, and will include the source code for these widgets too, to make it easier for developers to learn how to make their own. Adobe will also set up an exchange site where developers can give away or sell their widgets.

How do you make a widget?
Adobe will also deploy a method to quickly build your own widgets. Choose File > New Widget in Flash from the Captivate 4 menu and, provided you have Flash CS4 installed, a new Flash file opens that includes the base ActionScript code required to start building your own widgets.

Included Widgets
In the current beta version of Captivate 4 there are roughly 15 widgets available, for things as diverse as printing, adding a certificate, adding intelligent perpetual navigation buttons, dynamic pie chart, list box, combo box, check box, sequencing question etc.

Panning
Do you ever have to work within tight screen-size limitations? Does this make life difficult sometimes when your application is larger than your screen area?

Sure you can often get around this by recording at a higher resolution, and then resizing the project, but sometimes that is just not practical, for instance when you are delivering to small screen devices or to users with visual impairment.

Adobe Captivate 4 has a new Panning feature that moves the capture window while you are capturing a simulation so that you can always capture the screen area that you are referring to, at a fully legible resolution. Panning can be automatic, with Captivate following the mouse as you interact with the screen, or manual, allowing the developer to place the capture exactly where he wants in the application.

Project Template
Do you work with educational designers or subject matter experts who do not typically build content? Would it help your productivity if, instead of them creating PowerPoint or Word documents that you copy/paste into Captivate, you could create templates for them that they could easily build into?

Or do you often have a suite of, say, 5 or 10 lessons that have a largely similar format?

Captivate 4 introduces Project Templates. Developers can create template projects that contain slides with placeholders for various elements. Imagine your projects always have the following format - or something similar enough that building a template that contains all of the following slides will be a productivity enhancement:

Intro
Objectives
Video explaining feature x
Simulation of feature X
Supporting discussion
Summary
2 quiz questions

Captivate 4's Project Template builder lets you create the entire project outline, and add placeholders for each of the elements that should appear on the slides. So you can drop in captions, video placeholders and everything else required. All the SME or Instructional Designer needs to do is enter text and import slides/video. Design and layout is already taken care of.

Much of the work I have done over the years has required me to copy text and images from a storyboard document or a folder into the lesson file. Most eLearning development tools have import features that are designed to simplify and sped up this sort of importing, but typically they don't work 'just right' and/or they are still quite time consuming and subject to user error. This project template feature excites me because I can eliminate the storyboard stage from the project workflow and have SMEs and Designers build their lesson right into my template files.

Table of Contents
Captivate 4 introduces a new, powerful Table of Contents feature, referred to as TOC. It replaces the Skin > Menu feature from Captivate 3, which is much more laborious to work with. This feature automatically searches your Captivate project and builds a Table of Contents for it. Grouped slides are treated as sections with sub-pages, making it easy to create a hierarchical menu structure for your courseware.

The TOC can be presented as a side-panel that extends the width of your Captivate project or as an overlay that the user can access at will.

Coupled with the TOC is a powerful search feature which can optionally allow users to search within any quiz slides. Developers should be aware that widgets are not searchable.

Text to Speech
Captivate 4 will include a brand new Text to Speech feature. This uses a special engine that converts text inputted as closed captions into audio that is saved into the published file. This is a great feature for those of us with accessibility requirements, and for those who wish to include audio but do not have the budget for recorded speech.

Import PhotoShop files flattened or as layers
Captivate 4 lets you import PhotoShop psd files. You can choose to flatten the psd file on import, or you can import some or all of the layers in the file. Importing as layers places the elements on different layers in the Captivate timeline. This enables you to transition each layer element onto a slide separately, offering the developer the option to quickly produce more complex screen builds and builds timed to audio or captions.

Improved PowerPoint Import
PowerPoint import in Captivate 4 has been greatly improved. Developers can now round-trip edit PowerPoint slides from inside Captivate. This means the PowerPoint import is no longer a one-way trip. Alternatively PowerPoint files can be linked, so that edits to the source PPT file are reflected in the Captivate project.

Image Slideshow
Captivate 4 introduces a new Image Slideshow project so that we can rapidly build a slideshow with just a few mouse clicks.

Aggregator
The new Aggregator feature in Captivate 4 allows developers to bring a collection of packaged Captivate 4 swf files into a single project file. It automatically generates a menu, similar to the TOC feature already mentioned. If the Captivate file was set to searchable when published, then it can be searched in the Aggregator project too. ActionScript 2 and 3 projects cannot be mixed.

ActionScript 2 or 3
With Captivate 4 we can now choose to package our project using either ActionScript 2 or ActionScript 3. This is particularly helpful if you want to extend your Captivate project using Widgets - but please be sure not to mix and match AS 2 and 3 as this is unlikely to work well.

Of particular interest for me over the next year, the inclusion of ActionScript 3 as an option will make it easier for me to include Captivate in future Flex 3 and 4 projects, since both use ActionScript 3.

Captivate 4 on Mac
Adobe has been hinting about a Mac version of Captivate since at least DevLearn 2007. Well at DevLearn 2008 the hints were brushed aside by this quote from RJ:

"people want that and we are going to deliver"

Which seems pretty definitive to me. No word in when at this point. I suggest that if this interests you, then you should contact Adobe about beta testing the Mac version when beta testing begins.

Adobe eLearning Suite
RJ announced the upcoming Adobe eLearning Suite at the Learning Summit. This exciting new suite, aimed at eLearning developers includes the following applications

Captivate 4
LifeCycle Designer
Presenter
Flash CS4
Dreamweaver CS4
Photoshop CS4
Soundbooth CS4
Acrobat Professional 9
Device Central CS4
Adobe Bridge CS4
Pixel Bender Toolkit

Note that Flash and Dreamweaver will have special eLearning extras - learning interactions that are not distributed with other versions of Flash and Dreamweaver.

The following features are available only with the full Adobe eLearning Suite or, I presume, another Adobe suite that includes Device Central, or Acrobat Pro.

New Mobile Project
For me personally, this is probably one of the most exciting new features of Captivate 4 that has been shown so far. It promises to bring us *easy* development of mobile learning content to Flash Lite 3 devices. With Captivate 3 and earlier it is possible to produce content for mobile devices, but it is non interactive - all the interactive features of Captivate must be removed/omitted before publishing for your Flash Lite device.

Not much is known about what is fully supported by this feature, but here's what was shown by Adobe.

With the Adobe eLearning Suite installed, developers can now choose to create a New > Mobile Project. Doing so launches a new Device Central session where generic Flash Lite 3 devices or specific devices (i.e. Samsung BlackJack II) can be selected.

Once this selection is made, a new project opens up in Captivate with the screen size and publish settings are correctly set for you. I am reliably informed that under the hood some other magic is performs so that Captivate 'knows' you are working on a mobile project and acts accordingly. For example, when you insert a quiz question fonts and layouts will be scaled to suite the mobile device.

Once the new project is created, developers can begin capturing simulations or adding slides, captions, animations etc. When it is time to test the new project, select Test in Device Central. Now something magical happens.

The project is published into Device Central, where the developer can test on specific phones, seeing how non-touchscreen devices can be used with the developed content. Device Central has a great many exciting features including simulating different lighting and backlight conditions, emulating different network connection speeds, recording keypresses for batch testing and much much more.

For some idea of the power of Flash Lite, check out the Flash Lite demo page http://www.adobe.com/mobile

Export to pdf
Acrobat Pro 9 has introduced a new feature that allows developers to embed Flash swf files inside pdf files. This makes it possible to embed video, interactive content like games and instructional content like Captivate. Users of Captivate 3 can now import their Captivate projects into an Acrobat document to produce a complete learning or performance support package in a single pdf file.

This is pretty easy to do, as demonstrated above, but Captivate 4 will allow us to publish directly to pdf in a single step provided we have Acrobat Pro 9 installed. Acrobat’s new Portfolio feature can then be used to create a visually attractive, animated menu to a collection of interactive and static content that adds new life and interest to educational and marketing content.

9 comments:

Mister C said...

Thanks Steve. I can hardly wait. Any hints as to when it will be available?

Bob

Steve Howard said...

Next year some time ... ?

Michael said...

Very interesting! Look forward to seeing the finished product. Thanks for writing up this post.

Michael said...

Steve I posted a link to your blogpost on my blog:

http://www.captivate4.com/2008/11/25/captivate-4-sneak-peak/

I tried to add it as a link here, but can't get it to work. If you want me to remove the link to your post please let me know.

Adward said...

I am looking forward to Adobe Captive 4. But the budget could be a problem for me. Now I am using some elearning software like DemoCreator.

chang said...

Very nice - easy to follow, simple, and working. Thanks for the knowledge!
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elearning enthusiast said...

Thanks Steve. I can hardly wait. Any hints as to when it will be available?

- its already on the net?

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