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Adobe Captivate 2019

06 September 2018

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Just a few weeks after writing up my recent experience with Adobe Captivate 2017, Adobe has announced and released Adobe Captivate 2019. I decided to download the trial and take a look at some of the new features.

Adobe Captivate 2019 is a very solid update that brings in some fantastic new features, updates some of the older features with better UI/UX, but still at times proves frustrating. That said, it is well worth the upgrade.

I feel like I need to begin with a disclaimer. It is only recently that I got back in to using Adobe Captivate substantially (as I discuss in this article) after a few years, for many reasons, and that was on a work PC. So some of the things I point out below may have already existed in previous versions of Captivate, but I missed them. This article is as much about what is new in Adobe Captivate 2019, as what is new to me.

VR/360 Learning Experiences

So first the big news (unfortunately tinged with the fact that I don't really have the need for it at the moment) is that Adobe Captivate now has the ability to create VR learning scenarios…wow! From what I see, this looks really amazing…but also some refinement is needed. It may be that the refinement in question is simply creating better VR experiences, but there are tweaks I would like to see happen also.

When I think "VR", I think of VR headsets that I (frankly) find amusing and not that practical (I'm the sort of person to stand and point at someone wearing a VR headset rather than want to wear one)…but the ability to roam through a virtual location has huge potential. Well over a decade ago a colleague of mine created a QuickTime VR simulation that let real estate students all evaluate the same property (which meant that every student could be evaluated on the same property rather than what had happened previously, where every student used a different property). Captivate has just made the development of something like that so much easier. It doesn't create the VR movie, but how you can work with it is superb.

My first reaction was to think of things like Health and Safety simulations, where (as part of an induction, for example) you ask a participant to 'walk' around a virtual representation of the building they have just started working in, making sure they've picked up what you'd shown them previously in your Health and Safety induction (a fairly typical event these days in my experience). So you can get the staff member to confirm that the have picked up where the fire escape is, the first aid kit etc. This would be huge! Or think of someone training to be a ambulance paramedic or an ambulance service buying a new model of ambulance...where people need to learn where things are in this ambulance. Bringing that into VR or even just a 360 web-based browser experience would be fantastic. And then, the hotspots themselves could lead into other connected learning, like (as with the ambulance example) not just knowing where the defibrillator was, but then learning how to use it within the Captivate lesson.

Wei's apartment project
The "Wei's Apartment" sample VR project included within Adobe Captivate 2019

The trial comes with an example project (Wei's Apartment) and whilst it gives a good taste of the potential for the software, I did find some oddities to it. Keep in mind that this is effectively (or should be) an exemplar project by Adobe to highlight the new features...and so I was surprised to find it oddly lacking. I found that it was hard to tell whether I could in fact walk around the apartment (you couldn't as far as I can tell) and one of the pop-ups seemed near impossible to dismiss (I'm still not sure what caused it to close in the end).

Overlapping pop-ups
Pop-up text (that isn't dismissed by you) can cause display problems

Although I appreciate it is meant to be a VR experience, I would have liked to have seen the pop-ups adjust to my viewing rather than the need for me to adjust to it.

Onscured questions
Here I have triggered a question that was off to one side. I both understand (and find it frustrating) that I would need to turn to view the question, rather than have it present itself to me.

There was also an odd choice for the location of a hot-spot...

Unusally placed hotspot
Adobe chose to put the exit hotspot in an odd place in the VR demo I think

...which then led to a screen where the quiz results simply wouldn't go away, no matter how many times I said I wanted to continue.

The hotspot pop-ups tended to overlap and whilst the focus is probably to deliver this via a VR device, I found it hard that a question could sometimes pop-up in such a way that I needed (in my browser) to spin around to face it. OK, I know you're thinking "but that makes complete sense in a VR environment", but what I'm trying to say is that I wish there was a positioning option that let you centre the view on the pop-up, or aligned the pop-up not with the environment it was in, but put it front and centre in front of you. VR is great, but not when a question is floating in such a way that it's hard to read.

I've seen Captivate projects where this walk-through experience has effectively been faked, using clever transitions between slides, so it's fantastic to see that Adobe have made the functionality a reality. I can see this being embraced by many. The only thing I would say to my learning colleagues, is don't overdo it. Don't implement 360 walk-throughs when they aren't needed. I have seen examples where such behaviour wasn't necessary and proved distracting.. Use it for true, valuable learning experiences, and not as a learning gimmick.

Interactive video and overlays

This new feature has huge potential and I think is somewhat of an e-learning trojan horse (meaning its use may start of slowly, but in fact will grow) so I look forward to examples of this more in the future. This is particularly true in the fact that it will allow you to easily enhance many existing videos that are out there. Indeed, in my testing, I enhanced a certain "Never gonna give you up" music video via a direct connection to the published version on YouTube.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't new functionality...just something new to Captivate, and it's fantastic to see it included. Anyone familiar with H5P will be familiar with interactive video - The simplest way to describe the feature is that Adobe Captivate can take a video and create points in its playback that triggers a halt to the video and another slide within the project to 'overlay' the video with a question, whose response determines future playback. If the question is answered incorrectly (for example) you can force the user to return to the point in the video (via the use of a bookmark feature) to watch that part of the video again and re-answer the question. If it is answered correctly, you can (for example) allow the video to continue, or jump the user to another video. Wow!

What this means is that you can take somewhat passive video and turn it into something you interact with and need to respond to. Even taking old training videos (if you have them) and making them interactive, is going to be a quick win. And whilst there are other tools out there that do this, it's great to see that it is now part of the Adobe Captivate arsenal.

The down side for me was (as I mentioned in my previous article) once again, performance. I linked to a YouTube clip of Rick Astley's "Never gonna give you up" (cheesy I know) but once the video was on the slide, playing it in the Captivate timeline was challenging. The audio played fine, but the video didn't update at all (on another day it updated the image about every 5 seconds whilst playing the audio smoothly)…making inserting hotspots at the point I wanted very challenging. I had to keep stopping playback to let the still image catch up. Using a local copy of a movie was better, but still not great.

For reference, I am working on a Retina 5K Late 2015 iMac, 3.2 Ghz with 8 Gb of RAM. According to the tech specs from the Adobe website, I meet the "System requirements". I quote that phrase, as nowhere does that page suggest these are minimum requirements.

Back to creating an interactive video...there's some language learning that you will need to do here. I tried to create the interactive video without looking at any help material (to me this gives you an indication as to how intuitive a product is). My instinct was to put the video clip at the point I wanted and go up to the toolbar and try to insert an interaction. This was wrong. Instead in "interactive" video terms, you don't add an interaction, you add an overlay. Noted.

Even then I ran into problems. I had created a quiz slide to use as an overlay, but Captivate started telling me (I think) that I didn't have a slide that I could use as an overlay. But the feedback from the application wasn't the most intuitive...

Overlay prompt
In order to add an overlay there must be a slide that can be used as an overlay. This is a warning from Captivate that's only barely helpful.

I kept reading the message and thinking "I know! I've done what you have asked, so let me proceed!".

Ironically, you'll see later in the article that I express concern at how many ways help information can be found within Adobe Captivate. But here is an example where Captivate isn't being that helpful at all. There's no link to further information (which would have been an ideal part of this pop-up warning) and even "This project does not currently contain a slide that can be used as an overlay" would be a bit more specific than what it was saying.

By way of an example of a more useful warning, let's look at this one...

Overlay prompt
An example of a much more helpful warning from Captivate...although it
should be "Don't remind me again" as no question is being asked :-)

In the above warning, you clearly understand what the issue is or what is going to happen.

So I thought I had done what was asked (because I had added a question that I wanted to use as the overlay) but Adobe wasn't having it. It ends out that a quiz question isn't the correct type of slide to add (even when you want to add a question) but instead you need to add a "Knowledge Check Slide". You could spend hours debating whether a "Question Slide" and a "Knowledge Check Slide" are the same Adobe Captivate's eyes, they are not. But this is an example of where Captivate isn't as intuitive as you hope. How many times am I going to create interactive videos in the future, think "OK, I'll just ad a question now" and then end up choosing the wrong slide type?

Quiz options
I'm not convinced that the difference between a Question Slide and a Knowledge Check Slide is the easiest thing to understand

I know it may be a matter of semantics for Captivate, but I consider a Question to be something that checks knowledge…so the terminology here is confusing. I would rather Adobe have a "Create Overlay Slide" option that then asks you what type of overlay you want to add, or has a sub-menu of options. It frustrates me that I couldn't find an answer to this at first (even on the Adobe website) but in the end I just happened to watch a tutorial video where they happened to say they were adding a "Knowledge Check Slide".

The other problem I ran into was that whilst a preview in a browser (via the option in Captivate) worked, it failed when I decided to publish the project locally to my computer...

Unavailable video
Some forms of Captivate projects need a server - either a localhost option or publishing to a genuine webserver

It kept telling me that the video could not be other words, it was not pulling the video I had linked to on YouTube to my local computer. I confess I had a bit of a brain fade at this point (forgetting this is not a new Captivate issue) but when I FTP'd the output to my personal website, the project ran fine. This problem isn't a new thing with Captivate. If you look closely when you use the option (for example) to preview using "HTML5 in browser", you'll notice that when your browser loads, the URL includes the term "localhost". The simplest way to describe this is that Captivate is creating a temporary local webserver to display the project for you.

Localhost webserving
Captivate makes use of localhost webserving for some previews

So what if you are going to be creating local copies of project on a number of occasions and want to be able to test them without relaunching Captivate? Well the answer is to set up a localhost server. I'm not going to detail how to do this in this article (as there are multiple approaches and it can be complex) but a simple solution on the Mac is to move the project to the "Documents" folder located at /Library/WebServer/Documents. You may find your Mac asks you for authentication to move the material there.

After that and another hiccup (with a post to the Adobe site as I thought I had done something wrong, but in fact hadn't) I finally got my test example working. My idea was to take the classic chorus from Astley's song and ask a question, which (if you got it wrong) jumped you back to the chorus. If you got the answer right, the demo allowed to you play the rest of the clip.

In the end (hiccups aside) it really was incredibly easy to implement!

Interactive video questioning
I guess I "Quiz rolled" instead of "Rick rolled"? :-)

I do also need to stress that you can jump between bookmarks on various slides, so it doesn't even have to be as linear as I made it. In another project, I was able to insert two YouTube clips onto separate slides and have the correct answer in the middle of one video, jump you to the other clip. This is really powerful, and again, will let you take previously recorded clips, drop them into Captivate and make them far more interactive and responsive.

This is one of those features to me that I always knew was 'doable', but I've never bothered exploring until now. Now when I see how Adobe has made it so easy to implement, it's not only something I want to do, it's something that I keep coming up with further possibilities for constantly. It's taken Adobe to implement this in Captivate for me to want to explore this functionality more.

Live Device Preview

I find it slightly amusing that a few weeks after complaining about a lack of a live preview function in Adobe Captivate they released such a feature…although I have to temper that with saying it isn't quite what I was meaning (or wanting) but it's a great start. Their live preview is more for testing previews on devices, by 'linking' (more on that in a moment) to the preview you've generated on your Mac or PC. As mentioned previously, Captivate is capable of creating an instance of a webserver on your local computer (a localhost instance) and although typically you then look at this preview using a browser on the same computer, you can in fact allow any device on the same network to see that preview. And this is what Adobe has achieved...set up a localhost webserver preview (running from the computer with Captivate on it) and provide an easy way to then associate any device to that preview via a URL or QR code.

With a URL you can easily email it to people on the same network and ask them to test the output on their device. Or with the QR code, you could grab multiple devices or have people wander over to your computer and use the QR code and instantly see the preview on their own device.

It's superb! I found it incredibly easy to preview a responsive project on my phone in seconds. But, I'm fussy (if you've not noticed already) and I found a few things odd…like the use of speech marks on the page prompting you to use the QR code. What are they there for?

QR codes and device preview
Not sure why the speechmarks are there? Perhaps it's an output typo from Adobe?

The other thing that surprised me was the end result of the included Responsive learning sample. Take a look at how it appeared on my iPhone 6...

Device preview on an iPhone
When you're trying to show off a responsive project, I would have thought a flawless example would have been best?

To be clear, I simply opened up the available responsive learning sample, saved it and then previewed it live on my iPhone. I made no adjustments to it. Again, this might be seen as being fussy, but I consider this to be an exemplar project from Adobe, highlighting how superb Captivate I was surprised when I saw text boxes having their contents cut off (ironically, one of the text boxes that got cut off was a comment about how great the new responsive features of Captivate are).

If you're Adobe and you want to highlight how incredibly responsive your projects can be, I would have thought you'd want the provide a sample where the output looks perfect on any device? Don't get me wrong, I know that I can work through myself and correct the issue (and that in Captivate itself the responsive layout for an iPhone 6 looks perfect)…but on an actual iPhone 6, it didn't look as effective as I expected. To me this seems to suggest that Captivate isn't considering the true real estate that is available on devices or the example project wasn't tested fully.

Again, why is this an issue? Well if this if the sample project that Adobe is providing is intended to say "Look at how amazingly responsive your Captivate projects can be…and look at this shiny example", you don't want the example to highlight issues….you want it to be the gold standard. I hope perhaps in an update they fix the issue.

On the subject of previews

Whilst I think the live device preview feature is superb, I still wish that in the future, previews could be something that simply happened in the background of Captivate as you worked…and that the localhost server was always being updated as you worked on a project. This would allow you to see the changes immediately as you applied them. I do appreciate that this could create significant load on the computer, but it could be well worth it.

To explain what I mean (and I should have done this in my last article) what I was trying to describe is something that Dreamweaver calls Real-time preview, as opposed to live preview. You can learn about it here or watch this great video showing how it works in Dreamweaver (jump to 1:50 if you are impatient)...

I know that HTML rendering is more straight forward than a Captivate project, but I still find having to end a preview, make a correction, reload the preview, keep testing etc...a laborious activity within Captivate. I'm fussy about errors, so I want to fix them immediately. What I find I do at the moment (to stop such a circular process) is that I write down all the errors I spot in the preview (working through the whole thing) and then go and correct the project. At least it means I'm not stopping and starting as much, but it does mean that I'm not seeing the instantaneous fix that I would prefer.