Skip to main content

Proposal - Adobe Captivate Elements

23 April 2012

In 2009 I got the opportunity to spend a week at Adobe HQ as part of a Summer Institute for Adobe Education Leaders from around the world. It was a real honour to have been appointed the first Adobe Higher Education Leader in New Zealand and to be invited to their Summer Institute in San Jose. It was a fantastic week and a great opportunity to meet a lot of exceptionally talented people...both within Adobe and from the Adobe Education Leaders community. We were exceptionally well looked after and got to learn a lot about forthcoming releases from Adobe, as well as it being an opportunity for Adobe to listen to us about suggestions for future projects and how to support the education sector worldwide.

I did however come away with two frustrations - Firstly, I felt that Adobe didn't really appreciate the significance of the Moodle open source Learning Management System in the education sector, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region1. With the greatest respect to Adobe, I would say that I still don't think they have fully understood its importance within the e-Learning community. Secondly, at the end of a presentation and discussion about the next version of Adobe Connect, we moved on to a discussion about Adobe Captivate...and in particular, how many in the room felt that there was a need for a simplified version of Adobe "Adobe Captivate Lite" if you will, or as I outline here, a suggested Adobe Captivate Elements.

The reason I say this is that I believe that there is still the need for such an application and my reasoning stays much the same as it was in 2009. I shared some of that reasoning with the two Adobe staff immediately after the discussion had taken place at Adobe HQ and it goes along the lines of this....Adobe Captivate was (and is) a very powerful application that has tremendous use in the eLearning community. But it is an application that I don't often recommend depending upon the needs of the people that I am talking to. In many case, I recommend alternatives, despite Captivate being an absolutely superb product2.

I first came to use Adobe Captivate around version 2 or 3. At the time most of the focus of the product was on screen capture, with other activities (such as scenario based development) available through activities such as branching of slides. It really was an incredibly useful product...not just for rapid-fire screen captures (such as full-motion capture) but also for the more complex projects that required editing later on. It's ability to publish straight to the Adobe Connect installation that I had established in the university, was fantastic.

As Captivate grew, so too did the functionality. Things such as the use of variables, aggregation of content, review processes and (in version 5.5 that I don't possess) the ability to export to formats such have MP4 have all been welcome additions. I think it's also fair to say that as Captivate grew, so too did the complexity of its interface; so too did the numerous activities that you can perform with it; and so too did its usefulness. But I would suggest that as a product, just who Captivate is useful for has changed...or rather, the type of user has become more refined. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm not saying the more powerful features aren't welcome or needed...I'm saying that they may not be needed for everyone. And in many cases, it means I no longer recommend Captivate to certain groups of people.

The same applies to Adobe Photoshop. I'm no Photoshop guru (kudos to those that are), but if someone asks me "Should I get Photoshop?" I tend to review what they are wanting to achieve...often pointing them to Adobe Photoshop Elements, iPhoto, Picasa or even Pixelmator depending on what they want to do.

Adobe Captivate (as it stands at the moment) is to me, a superb tool for eLearning specialists, instructional designers, those wanting to create scenario-based interaction or develop advanced quizzes with tracking into an LMS through SCORM. As Adobe puts it...."Adobe® Captivate® 5.5 software is the industry-leading elearning authoring software for rapidly creating and maintaining interactive eLearning content. Import your existing Microsoft PowerPoint content and make it more engaging with rich media, application simulations, branching scenarios, and quizzes. Easily publish to leading SCORM- and AICC-compliant Learning Management Systems and track key performance metrics."

Great stuff! Fantastic...but look at how many things it can do just in that 3 sentence! My contention is that there are a great deal of people, such as academic staff that I used to work with at a local university, who don't want all of those features but want some. This is why I think the notion of Adobe Captivate Elements is a good idea. Having a light-weight version that focuses on screen capture (this is always the aspect of Captivate that most people ask me about) lends itself to not only providing an application for those wanting less, but also to promoting a more advanced and professional version to those that ultimately want to escape the limitations of the non-Pro version. As it stands at the moment, because of the complexities of the product, as well as the cost of a purchase (even in the education sector) I don't tend to recommend Captivate to those outside of the the learning design/instructional design/education technologist sphere.

So...this is what I propose for Adobe Captivate Elements...

1. It must be "always on" or at least launch exceptionally quickly

The reasoning behind this idea is two-fold....Adobe Captivate can take some time to start-up, whereas many screen capture tools load quickly (Note - I'm using Captivate v5 on Mac and PC at the moment so am unaware if there are performance improvements in v5.5).

Secondly, many of these tools can be set to be launched immediately into screen capture mode via a key combination such as Snapz Pro, Skitch or Jing for example. In that sense, these applications are 'always on' and readily accessible.

2. It needs to focus on screen capture

As stated earlier, Adobe Captivate has grown over the years to be an exceptionally powerful tool...perhaps too powerful at times for many that might want to use it. An "Elements" version of Captivate can't be all things to everybody, so I suggest its focus should be on screen capture.

One of the things that has always impressed me with Captivate has been how it can quickly capture your mouse actions, automatically place text into the captured area describing the mouse actions you performed and then produce output that (even without any editing) is rich in interactivity and detail. This is how Captivate began and it should be the focus of a reduced-features version.

From the Adobe website then, I believe that Adobe Captivate Elements should allow:

  • Automatic screen capture with smart full-motion recording
  • Multimode recording for screen capture
  • Support for right-clicking in simulations
  • AutoText Captions

3. It should allow instant publication

This includes online (YouTube), MP4, AVI, MOV, MPEG, FLV, PDF and Word. Part of the reasoning for instant publication is to try and keep the process simple and straightforward.

Another aspect to this concerns just what the user is presented during and after a screen capture. Take a look at the following image of both Skitch and Jing in use (click on the image to see a larger version). Here I have selected examples of Skitch and Jing immediately after they have captured an image (in this case, just the Mac desktop background)...

Skitch and Jing

Now look at Adobe Captivate immediately after a screen capture...

Adobe Captivate

This isn't to criticise Adobe Captivate. Of course the screen is going to be more complex after a capture, because there's so much more you can do and edit from this point on in Adobe Captivate compared to other applications....but again, my idea is to simplify what you can do and the functionality available to you, with a focus on prompt screen capture publishing. Adobe Captivate (of all the 3 applications I just highlighted) has the most unobtrusive capture screen during capture...but once the content is captured, the interface of the Captivate application takes over.

I would like to see a more straightforward process if all you are doing is immediately publishing, with other aspects (such as editing) only presented when you really need them. This then also ties nicely into the next point...

4. It should allow you to save your capture as a Captivate file that can be edited in either the Elements or the full version of Captivate

I need to stress that the Elements version of the application would still stand by itself and allow editing. The choice after capture would be simply "Publish" or "Save". The ability to edit remains an important aspect of the Elements version. The interface for doing all this work might possibly be simplified.

Another key feature would be that saved files from Elements could then be passed on to someone with the full version of Adobe Captivate. So Captivate could open or import Captivate Elements files, but the reverse wouldn't apply.

5. Functionality to be retained in Adobe Captivate Elements should include...

  • Interactive elements (perhaps a limited set to entice you to move to the more advanced version of Captivate)
  • Scenario branching
  • Audio recording and editing
  • Quizzing should remain 'as is' or only be reduced in the number of features
  • The same for scoring and tracking...although perhaps SCORM compliance and the use of such projects within an LMS might be a powerful feature that Adobe might want to reserve for the full version?

6. It should not include the following features, which should be exclusive to Adobe Captivate (although I'm open to debate)

  • Roundtrip Powerpoint
  • Templates (or rather it should have a reduced set of them to entice users to upgrade if they want more)
  • Use of variables and advanced actions
  • Widgets (or again, a limited set of widgets that will function with the Elements version)
  • Animation effects (or include a reduced set to entice people to move to the full version)
  • Expanded asset library (obviously Adobe should entice people to upgrade by limiting this set)
  • Adobe Photoshop layer support - it's a great feature, but let's keep the Elements version simple
  • Adobe Audition CS5.5 integration - it's a great feature, but let's keep the Elements version simple
  • Publishing to tablets, smartphones, and iOS devices - it's a superb feature, but let's keep the Elements version simple and make people buy the 'Pro' version if they need this

6. There should be an upgrade path

Finding Adobe Captivate Elements too limiting? You should be able to upgrade to the full version to gain more features and functionality. That's often the main point in a limited-feature application.

And that's all folks. I'd be interested to hear what others think about the idea.

  1. This relates to a discussion concerning my favourite Adobe product, Adobe Connect. At the time, Adobe provided its own integration tool for the Blackboard LMS, whereas integration between Connect and Moodle was supported through third party software. We were suggesting that Adobe come to the party and support Moodle more directly. Coincidentally, on getting back to the hotel that night the Moodle-verse was abuzz with the news that Microsoft had released an open source connectivity tool between Moodle and Microsoft Live, and had put a great deal of effort into promoting the news which you can see here. I thought the fact that Microsoft had made such a big deal about a bridge between Moodle and their Live offering might be enough to sway Adobe, but it didn't appear to.
  2. I really want to point out that this post isn't seeking to discuss alternatives to Adobe Captivate. I'm fully aware of many of them and have quite a few installed on my Mac and under Windows. Alternatives aren't the issue....a simplified and reduced feature-set version of Captivate is.