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Review of Adobe Captivate 6


The release of Adobe Captivate 6 was, in my view, probably the most significant new release since Captivate 3.0. It introduced a wide range of significant new features, some of which open up the possibility of totally new approaches to eLearning development with Captivate, and provides a much needed refresh of the user interface. Some of the features (for example: object grouping, and a choice of bullet symbols) may appear relatively minor, but are enhancements that I had been wanting for a very long time.

Captivate’s origin is as a tool for creating Flash-based demos of tasks in software applications, based on slide-based capture. Over recent years, under the stewardship of Adobe, it has evolved into a multi-purpose eLearning development tool, although its core strength has remained its capability to create demos and tutorials on software tasks. This latest release packs in a number of new features that further broaden its capabilities as a general eLearning development tool, and that also provide additional flexibility for recording video-based software demonstrations. Adobe’s aim appears to be to position Captivate as a one-stop shop for all your eLearning and demonstration needs.

My only concern with this approach is that the interface has become extremely rich and complex, and the learning curve has increased correspondingly. Early versions of the product were known for being simple and intuitive to use, even by relatively non-technical trainers and instructional designers. My view is that new users will need to allocate more time (and perhaps even training budget) to be able to get the most from this powerful latest version. Some of the new features that actually make it easier to create consistent and professional looking projects quickly and easily may be a little daunting to new users, and might perhaps even have the effect of slowing them down during the familiarisation stage of their work with Captivate.

I mentioned that the interface has been given a face lift &emdash; this annoyed me at first, because I had already been through the pain of adjusting to a totally new interface with the release of version 5.0. However, I soon realised that the latest tweaks had not simply been made for the sake of change — it appears that Adobe has given some serious consideration to the usability of the product, and has replaced many of the somewhat cryptic and dour toolbar icons in 5.0 with more recognisable, colourful, and intuitive icons in the new version. In addition, the colour contrast between various components of the user interface has been improved throughout, making for a more attractive and easier to use workspace.

I have listed the most significant new features with a brief description of each below. I have arranged them in the order of significance that I attach to them personally, although this sequence may change as I continue to get to know the new version. Over the coming weeks, I will be writing a series of detailed articles that discusses each of these features in more detail, and provides examples and practical tips on their usage.

  1. New Video Recording option: this offers a totally new video-based editing environment as an optional alternative to Captivate’s traditional slide-based paradigm. Captivate is now effectively two tools rolled into one, each of which has its own distinct set of controls and features. When you create a video-based demo, you save your project in a new Captivate Video Composition (.cpvc) format and have access to a range of exciting new features only available to this format. These include Pan & Zoom (a feature I had really hoped for), Split, Trim, and the option to “smoothen” mouse movement as an alternative to leaving the actual mouse movement captured during the recording.
  2. Themes and enhanced Master Slides: this is a significantly enhanced version of the master slides that were first introduced with the release of Captivate 5.0. Master slides can how contain placeholders that enable you to define the layout and content-type of new slides. There is now an overall master slide (called the Main Master Slide), and all other master slides can inherit the background and objects from the Main Master Slide. Thus, with a minimum of effort, you can use the Main Master Slide to create an overall look and feel for your entire project. In many ways, master slides are now as powerful as the slide masters that you find in Microsoft PowerPoint. Finally, it is possible to save all the master slides, along with the Skin and the Object Styles, as a Theme. This Theme can then be applied to any project to ensure visual consistency in all its aspects.
  3. HTML5 output: HTML5 is now available as an alternative publishing format to Flash (.swf). The advantage of publishing to HTML5 is that your movies can potentially be experienced on platforms (such as the iPad) that do not support the Flash Player. Previously this has been possible only by publishing to the MP4 video format, but this meant losing all interactivity such as buttons, click boxes, text entry boxes, etc. The disadvantage of publishing to HTML5 is that only a limited selection of browsers (recent versions of Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari) currently support it. Another downside is that, although most interactivity is preserved, a number of project features are not currently supported by the HTML5 format. These include random quiz questions, and rollovers. Adobe states that the advantage of publishing to both Flash and HTML5 is that learners can potentially start an eLearning module on their desktop computer, take a break, and then resume it from the same point on a mobile device.
  4. Grouping of Objects: this feature is self-explanatory, and offers the same kind of grouping and ungrouping that you find in other vector-based drawing tools. It makes it far easier to move and re-organise multiple objects on a slide, and is a feature that I have long been waiting for.
  5. Smart Shapes: these give you far more options and greater flexibility for drawing different kinds of vector-based objects. Captivate can now be used as a powerful vector-based graphics editor, whereas previously you might have had to import images from a specialist tool. Return to Quiz option: this feature is great for remediation. It enables you to provide additional information in response to an incorrect response to a quiz question, and then to return the user back to the quiz from the point at which they made the error. It is very simple to implement, and I anticipate this feature being widely used, and with significant benefit.
  6. Pretests: you can now include a special set of “Pretest” questions at the start of a learning module. Based on the learner’s score for these questions, you can then direct learners to an appropriate section of the module (or indeed to a different module altogether). This feature is by no means trivial to implement since it requires you (the Captivate author) to have an understanding of Advanced Interactions — if it were simpler to use, I might have rated this feature more highly.
  7. Character Images: this is a collection of professional-looking stock images showing people of various ethnicity and gender adopting a range of different poses and expressions. These images provide a valuable resource for anyone creating eLearning modules for internal use within an organisation. However, I probably wouldn’t choose to include them in publicly available content since, if the stock images become widely used, there is the risk of my movies looking the same as a lot of others.
  8. Hyperlinks: this is another long overdue feature. Previously the only way to create hyperlinks was to overlay a Click Box on a Text Caption. Now you can easily select a piece of text within a Text Caption and format it as a hyperlink.
  9. Partial scores and penalties: this feature gives you more flexibility in your quiz scoring. For a multiple choice question, you can now give a learner credit for correctly selecting part of a multiple-answer response. For example, if the correct responses are both A and C, the learning may now be awarded 50% of the available score by responding with only A or C. You can also award negative scores for incorrect responses in order to discourage guessing. It is unfortunately still not possible automatically to reduce the score awarded when the learner requires multiple attempts to respond correctly, which is something that I am often asked about.

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