I knew Macromedia was onto something with Captivate when a colleague of mine, who is a Flash guru, sighed, “It’s bad, they’re making it too easy. It’s putting people like me out of business.”
While PowerPoint® has been the communication tool of choice for most subject matter experts (SMEs), most agree that it's not a premier e-learning tool. On the other hand, Flash is great as an e-learning development tool, but it requires talented and experienced Flash developers. Clearly, the market needs tools that combine the advantages of these PowerPoint® and Flash—and be easy to use. Enter Macromedia Captivate.
Captivate is referred to by most developers as a rapid e-learning tool. In other words, it enables SMEs and average users to rapidly develop e-learning content, and deploy it online quickly.
Captivate is the RoboDemo 5 product from eHelp, with a facelift. RoboDemo started out as screen-recording software that enabled software demonstrations and simulations, but it has evolved. Essentially, Captivate records screens, keyboard entries, and mouse clicks; then, plays them back. The developer can add captions, graphics, buttons, and a variety of interactive elements to enhance the learning experience. The PowerPoint® sequential slide metaphor is used to manage content, making editing and development intuitive.
Most important, Captivate publishes Flash (.swf) files that are easily published online. In fact, you can use Captivate to develop Flash-based e-learning without actually using Flash. To be sure, its capabilities are rudimentary when compared to Flash MX, but with a little creativity you can craft some impressive interactive e-learning content.
Figure 1: An e-learning screen in Captivate.
Features and uses
Demonstration V. Simulation
Before looking at some of the more interesting features of Captivate, let me clarify the difference between a demonstration and a simulation.
A demonstration can be thought of as a movie that records how to use a particular software feature. The learner sees the mouse move across the screen, menus are selected automatically, and keyboard entries are typed on screen. In a demonstration the learner sits passively and observes. This is equivalent to a trainer demonstrating to an audience how to use a feature in a program. No questions, no interaction. In my opinion, this isn’t always the best way to learn how to use a piece of software. (Although, this seems to be the default online experience.)
To learn how to accomplish a task the learner needs to be able to interact with the software. A simulation asks the learner to complete a series of keystrokes or mouse-clicks to accomplish a specific task. The behavior of the software is, in some way, simulated so that users interact with the content and become engaged in the process. (This typically is achieved by adding transparent click-boxes to the screen.) Learners know whether they’re making correct or incorrect choices, and they get immediate feedback.
Although Captivate is marketed as a tool for creating interactive simulations and software demonstrations, it’s actually much more powerful. For instance, you can use it to convert PowerPoint® to Flash, as well as create tests and assessments. Its other capabilities include voice-over narration, audio editing, menu/navigation development, and animated text. Consider it your Flash Swiss-Army knife.
Recording mode. One of the nice features of Captivate, is that it asks you to select a specific recording mode: demonstration or simulation (see Figure 2). If you choose simulation, then Captivate will automatically turn off the mouse and add the appropriate click-boxes (hotspots), and it adds success and failure captions. This feature can save you countless hours creating and aligning click-boxes for each simulation you create. By using this feature, you can build an effective, attractive, interactive simulation in approximately five minutes. However, if you don’t like your software to make too many decisions for you, you have access to fine-tune some of the text captions.
Figure 2: The recording options screen.
In addition, if you want to add voice-over, you simply check the “record narration” box and start speaking. If you make a mistake or sneeze, you can go back and use the “edit timing” feature to clean up your track.
Timeline. One of the really nice features that Macromedia introduced in Captivate is the timeline. (Having been a RoboDemo user, I found this rather annoying to begin with because I already had a good grasp of how to sequence captions and elements. I soon learned to love the timeline and now I couldn’t do without it.) As its name suggests, the timeline shows you exactly when actions occur on a specific slide (see Figure 3). The big advantage of this is that you can sequence things very easily and accurately. And, when strange things happen—and they will—this feature is great for debugging the final solution.
Figure 3: The timeline.
Flash export. If you’re a Flash user or work with a Flash guru, Captivate’s Flash export capability is very useful. Your Captivate content can easily be imported into Flash for editing. Flash MX 2004 lets you open Captivate (.cp) files as standard Flash files, enabling you to create a simple simulation or project in Captivate and then add advanced effects, branching, and coding in Flash. This enables you to develop the basic demonstration or simulation done in Captivate, then add any fine tuning and logic in Flash.
Another way to take advantage of this feature is to create an elegant navigation system in Flash, and then have Flash load in the Captivate .swf files when needed. This gives developers the best of both worlds: speed of development plus the elegance of design that Flash provides.
PowerPoint® import. Most SMEs are familiar with creating content in PowerPoint®, and in most organizations there are copious amounts of presentations that contain crucial information. With a little editing and instructional clean-up, you can import these files into Captivate and published them in a Flash format for online deployment. You can use Captivate to add menus, interactivity, audio, video, tests and quizzes, and turn seemingly dry content into something lively and engaging.
If you’re a savvy PowerPoint® user, you can even develop your basic e-learning content in PowerPoint® by using an appropriate (non-presentation) e-learning template and import it in Captivate for the addition of interactive elements. This is a great way to develop some simple, Flash-interactive modules fast—without needing to develop directly in Flash.
Audio editor. By using the timeline feature, you can record voice-over tracks and synchronize them to specific screens (see Figure 4). If you need to edit, re-record, delete, or rearrange the audio, you can cut, copy, and paste content repeatedly. If certain passages are too loud or too soft, you can adjust the volume of any selected section. Captivate also provides a “dynamics” audio processing feature that amplifies quiet sections of audio to help compensate for variations in volume. If you choose to use professional voice-over recordings, then it’s simple to import .wav or .mp3 files and edit them inside Captivate.
Figure 4: Captivate's audio editor.
Background editor. When you’re creating content and want something more interesting than a solid color background on your slides, it’s easy to copy and paste a background into your favorite graphics editor and add color, lines, or gradients. Captivate lets you paste the changes directly into your working files. You don’t need to worry about saving a graphics file and then re-importing it. You just select “Copy Background” and “Paste as Background” from the menu options. You also can use this feature to edit and fine-tune screen captures from simulation recordings.
Caption editor. Captivate produces caption boxes in bitmap (.bmp) form, making them easy to edit or create from scratch in a graphics program. For example, in several recent projects, I developed whole new sets of caption boxes to more closely fit with a client’s color scheme style.
Test and quiz capability. Although Captivate is primarily designed as a simulation/demonstration program, it comes with substantial quiz and testing capabilities. You can insert a question slide anywhere in your project and publish the learners’ results directly to the screen or to an AICC- or SCORM-compliant LMS. As well as the standard multiple-choice, true-false, and fill-in-the-blank questions, Captivate offers short-answer, matching, and Likert questions.
Figure 5: Questions in Captivate.
In addition to question slides, Captivate can provide scores for any click-box, text-entry box, or button. This means you can integrate simulation questions with standard text questions, allowing you to create media-rich competency tests and assessments. Also, unlike most of the other simulation software programs, Captivate can track each individual click interaction and send results to an LMS rather than simply send the aggregate pass/fail score.
The testing capabilities in Captivate are impressive, but there is room for improvement. For example, question slides cannot be copied, pasted, or duplicated like the other slides. So, if you want 30 multiple-choice questions, you must create each one independently—and perform exactly the same configuration and layout 30 times.
Video option. Because you can embed any .swf file into Captivate, you can embed video into your content (see Figure 6). In Flash MX, you can import your digital video file and convert it to Flash Video (.flv) format. Then simply publish the content as a .swf file and import it into Captivate. But beware: Don’t add two hours of talking heads just because you can. Also, if you have very large video files that need to be delivered online, you will still need a server solution for delivering streaming video.
Figure 6: Video in Captivate.
Apart from a few minor faux pas, Macromedia has come up with a winner in the rapid e-learning category with Captivate. Not just for the simulation and demonstration features, which are impressive, but for what you can do beyond these capabilities. The ability for non-Flash users to create simple Flash-based, interactive e-learning, develop tests and assessments, and import PowerPoint® make Captivate well worth the purchase price.
Published: February 2005