One of the things that I like so much about Storyline is that the simplicity of approach is also one of its greatest strengths. When there are times that you just need to whip up a very quick module, then Storyline is a superb application to use. The simplicity also belies the fact that it is a very powerful application, with powerful features. Some of the example projects out there are truly impressive and make use of some of the amazing features of Storyline…
But as my opening to the article suggested, simplicity doesn't always make things easy. For example, one of the criticisms I would have of Storyline is that it can be difficult to do animations. The software mostly relies on the creation of animated GIFs (I went from not having made a GIF in a decade, to making them more times than I wished for) or using PowerPoint-like slide transitions or motion paths to achieve what I wanted.
Although these functions are reasonably powerful and simple to use, I ran into issues. The software didn't like animated GIFs that were too large, complex or resized…so I found myself (on a project with slides set at 1920x1080) often creating two images…a static image minus the portion of the image I needed to animate, and a second image, which was the GIF animation. I would then insert both images onto the slide and align them to get what I wanted. It wasn't the best approach, but it meant more control over the animations that I produced.
Even the pre-set animation effects were challenging. I struggled to understand why objects travelling along a motion path sped up at the start and slowed down at the end and assumed "Oh well, that's just how it is". It seemed really odd and it wasn't until I went to investigate that I found that there is a solution…but it's slightly hidden away. Why Articulate opted to set up their motions paths with "easing" (as it is referred to) as the default animation approach confuses me….and is very unlike other animation software I have used. To me it's like Articulate taking control and varying the speed of your animation path before you even asked it to. I'd love to see "easing" disabled as a default. I know that might seem such an odd thing to focus on, but as mentioned, I had assumed for months that this odd animation style was simply something that I had to live with. To me a normal, simple animation path should be the default…and if I want to go off and investigate how I can better control that animation timing with some fancy easing, then it's at that moment that I would discover the options possible.
Unlike other software, you can't mark keyframes to help you with animations. By this I mean that something as simple as rotating an object requires using the "spin appear" PowerPoint-like effect rather than being able to set a start and end point of an object and tween keyframes to generate the required spin animation. I really miss that ability. It would have saved a lot of time and attempts with the various approaches I took.
This leads on to the other issue with animations (which was discussed in part one of this article)…the timeline doesn't really work like any timeline that you might be accustomed to in other animation or video editing software. There is no ability to 'scrub' the timeline, and even the option to play through the timeline (by pressing the spacebar) is inconsistent and poorly implemented. Unfortunately the ability to scrub the timeline has been a feature request by users for over 5 years at the time of writing and there appears to be no progress concerning the feature.
One of the problems around a rapid or agile software development strategy is that bugs can be easily introduced and might not be noticed due to the pace of development. Another problem with frequent updates is that there's an expectation from users of frequent fixes…and that isn't something that Articulate always delivers. I was somewhat surprised in my first 4 weeks of using Storyline, to come across 3 separate bugs...none of which had earth-shattering consequences but did require some rejigging by me. I struggle to remember the last time I experienced a similar situation with Adobe Captivate.
But what surprised me more was that some of these bugs had been known and acknowledged for quite some time (i.e., a year or two at least) and had not been resolved. With a rapid software approach, you'd expect these to have been fixed by now. In defence of Articulate (before I talk further on this issue) one of the 3 bugs (which had been first reported a year ago) was resolved about 5 months into using Storyline.
Articulate is clear on how they tackle bugs and feature request, and their posts frequently point you to this page. But whilst being so open about their approach, as I used Storyline more and more, I was surprised to find posts that were well over 4 years old where an issue was acknowledged, a workaround suggested, a feature request (or bug report) was submitted…and then nothing had happened.
Take the following example - We came across an accessibility issue with several question activities such as drag and drop or matching drop-down. The issue arose when you came to a slide with one of these activities on and then immediately submitted your response. Whilst most activities had a built-in layer on the slide for "Correct" or "Incorrect" that you could customise, they did not have a built-in layer for "Invalid Answer" that you could alter. Instead Articulate uses a browser-based pop-up dialogue box that (a) doesn't look like any other layer that you might have created, (b) can't be customised in any way, and (c) caused accessibility issues for us and the JAWS software reader.
Here's one of the most useful forum posts about the issue. But look at that forum post…it's 7 years old and ongoing! It's great that a workaround was discussed at around the same time of the initial post, but later in the thread you see a feature request to resolve this was submitted over 5 years ago! Even now the problem still exists…and the most recent response by Articulate has been to (once again) suggest you submit a feature request.
For me, because I was required to produce accessible modules, I had to ultimately state the following in my hand-over notes….
It is of my opinion that I shouldn't have to be writing statements like that in my work, particularly concerning something that has been known as an issue for over 7 years.
At other times, what seems like a straightforward feature request has sat as a forum post and discussion for over 6 years! How useful is that post? Wouldn't it be better for Articulate to say "Yeah, we're not going to do that"? Or perhaps post a message that they'll consider it, but it isn't considered a high priority?
I've recently been communicating with a developer of a Mac app that I was considering buying. It didn't do exactly what I needed it to, but it was very close. It got to the point in discussion with the developer where I asked "I'm not asking you to say that it's never going to be implemented, but please give me an indication if it is likely. That way I can either consider a workaround whilst I wait or know that I am better off looking at alternate software". Wouldn't a response like that to a question sometimes be more open and useful?
One poster on a forum (where he had requested quite a simple feature be implemented) came back to the thread when I posted in support, with him stating…"This thread is a good indication of how long it takes to get a feature authors need." To their credit (and our disappointment) they did in fact finally indicate that the feature wasn't on the roadmap. I think that's decent…I'd rather be knowledgeable and disappointed, than pointlessly hopeful.
Or this example, an over 4-year-old discussion where someone is asking for a basic feature (to set the corner radius of an object using a value) that someone joins and mentions that discussions like this can be found elsewhere on the forums from over 6 years ago. Or this, where someone submitted a feature request for the ability to display slide numbers on screen…and four years later it was implemented as a feature.
Unfortunately, I'm getting used to seeing or receiving the standard response from Articulate...and I have no doubt that the staff in the forums have these ready to paste in. They tend to go as follows…
Updates (that include bug fixes and new features) roll out far more regularly for Articulate compared to Adobe Captivate. Adobe tend to do a substantial new version every one or two years, but often don't introduce new features between these major versions. That said, this year saw the release of Adobe Captivate 2019 Update 2 (Update 1 really was just a couple of bug fixes) that saw some major changes to the application. So much so, that they even announced the update as "The BIGGEST Ever Free Update To Adobe Captivate". It would be great if Adobe could perhaps commit to a more frequent update cycle for the software as you see with Storyline.
That said, you need to look a little deeper into the Articulate releases. First, many releases are in fact just bug fixes, often based upon reports by users within the very active Articulate forums. That's not to say that major changes aren't released at times, such as the Media Library that I have discussed earlier. But despite the frequent releases, I started noticing people vent their frustration online at Articulate. Many of these people were very polite but pointed out that they had been paying a subscription for the software for a long time and that issues that had been reported many years ago were not being prioritised by Articulate.
I get that in the immediacy of trying to resolve a problem, Articulate suggesting a workaround is useful…but it's not the solution to the problem. In fact, having to do a workaround highlights a fault or a gap in the functionality of the software. Sometimes these workarounds are so complex, that people post them to their own site to benefit others. Here's an example of someone posting externally about a complex workaround to solve an issue with Storyline where you can't easily customise drop-down options in questions.
Often the response to having to do a workaround and people saying "I wish this feature was in Articulate" is for Articulate staff to point people to this page related to how they manage feature requests. I'm going to say it's a poor attempt at transparency. Posting that information doesn't indicate the different weighting that Articulate places between workarounds and feature requests. I thought Cara summed up the dilemma that users and Articulate face eloquently in a posting on this forum discussion…
"Hey Articulate, Is it possible for you to be more transparent about your process of adding features? We've received the stock response that you're listening, considering, and you'll get back to us when/if a feature is added. This thread started six years ago, and over the subsequent six years, many users have taken the time to add their voices to this request. What is the threshold for the development team? What is the current priority? Is there a response from the development team as to why this is not a priority? This feature has implications for students who speak English as a second language, who are studying dense content, for those who need accessibility, and for those of us needing to create a product that is well received by students. We are delivering materials in different formats as a result of Articulate not being nimble enough to respond in a timely way."
That's a superb series of questions by Cara, that not only indicates the significance of the need for the functionality being discussed, but the impact that the functionality not being present is having. And let's break down the response from one of the company's Customer Happiness Specialists…
I can understand you feeling like you're in the dark about what features we're working on and when certain features might be released. While we don't have a public roadmap…
To be clear, we're not feeling like we are in the dark, we *are* in the dark about new features and when they are to be released. You just indicated as such by saying there is no public roadmap. I'm not suggesting that all software companies should publicly declare timelines of new functionality releases, but Articulate's forums are a positive area that welcomes user input. If you're going to actively encourage that sort of discourse (which Articulate does) you need to be more transparent.
…we're committed to giving you the best information we can at the time…
And here lies the main issue. In a few instances I've seen Articulate say "this isn't actively being worked on"...but I have seen multiple forum threads where there is effectively radio silence…for years! Users are left to guess whether the issue or bug is being addressed, is not a priority or indeed just what priority has been assigned to it. The "best information" is sadly not being provided.
…and we provide targeted release dates when possible.
Well I've not seen many targeted dates at all. I must have missed something.
We've seen firsthand that this is a highly-requested enhancement for Storyline 360, and that's something we consider as we plan ahead for new features.
What does this even mean?! It's both acknowledging how much users want this feature (and have wanted it for 6 years!) whilst at the same time giving absolutely no guidance as to if and when it might be implemented. At best, the entire post from the staff member can be summed up as the company saying "will consider the feature".
While this one isn't currently on our immediate roadmap, we're discussing it's importance with our Product team.
Finally, clarity…kinda…and the answer is (basically) "this isn't happening"…unless you want to spend hours reading way too much into the vague expression "we're discussing its importance". But the paragraph that this is mentioned in is obtuse. It didn't need all the extra supportive commentary to then simply say that the feature isn't planned at this stage whilst giving false hope at the end.
As we know more, we promise to keep you updated.
And I do need to add here, that to their credit, the company is exceptionally good at coming back to threads and following up when a feature or a fix is finally released. It's exceptionally good customer service….but often comes at the end of a process that can be lengthy, frustrating and invisible to end users.
Another example - here's someone asking (6 years ago) for Articulate to provide a list of known issues. Their response is to say "If you have an issue, you might find it in the forums, or you can report it" which isn't what the person is really asking. Compare this with Adobe Captivate, that has a page fully acknowledging all issues. I'm not saying that Adobe's approach to user support is better…it isn't. It's common to feel alone and unsupported at times in the Adobe Forums (that may have changed, it's been a while) whilst Articulate's community is vibrant, active, supportive and engaging. I've found myself simply jumping into the Articulate forums sometimes for no other reason than to see what people are saying, and if I have had time, support those asking questions (including supplying example files). When a community forum gets me involved for no other reason than I want to be involved, then they are doing the right thing.
Compare that with this recent commentary by Paul Wilson concerning Adobe's updated eLearning Community website. Paul is a staggeringly talented Adobe Captivate specialist who has built up a stunning library of tutorials that we all benefit from when using Captivate. But one of the things I also like about him, is his practical and no nonsense approach to his work. Read his thoughts on what should be a lively and active community website for Adobe and you feel and agree with his frustrations. He shouldn't have to spend time pointing out what are effectively basic mistakes that make the Adobe community site unusable. And as a side note...I thought I should login at that point and check what has changed...and wow! I signed in and then was immediately presented with a screen requiring me to give Adobe my contact details and agree that I could be contacted by Adobe after supplying that information. That's not how you do community....that's how you try and generate further business in the guise of a community site. I quit out of the Adobe eLearning Community website at that point and don't intend to return.
Come on Adobe - This isn't how entering a community site should be! Adobe makes it clear from the get-go that their eLearning community site is more about getting your contact and business details than supporting you.
What worries me most is that the Articulate forum is often the place you go to, not so much for a solution, but for the workaround or for the standard response from Articulate staff that, even after 10 months of my using Storyline, is starting to make me groan and say to my colleagues "I've found a post that discusses the issue and there's just a standard Articulate response".
I want to make it clear that Articulate's rapid approach to software development (an update released almost every month) is impressive and an incredible advantage compared to its competitors. Even in the months of use so far, they have rolled out some fantastic new features. Compare that to Adobe Captivate, when new (admittedly usually huge) new features can take 12-18 months before they appear (this year being an exception).
That said, it's disheartening to come across a forum post about an issue, think "Oh thank god, they are aware of the problem"…only to find that the postings started between 3-5 years ago and haven't been resolved to date. In the case of a colleague who had completed a substantial amount of work (multiple project files) and had a deadline fast approaching, she discovered an accessibility issue with a feature of Storyline and couldn't get sign off for her work…so she was left with only one option…a substantial re-working of every slide (and there were a lot!) where the feature had been used. The frustration was palpable, but also magnified when it was clear that it was a known issue that hadn't been resolved by Articulate for some time.
The flow-on effect even just across our organisation was significant…remove any instances where we had used that feature and avoid that functionality like the plague. Even 9 months later I've not bothered to check if the issue has been fixed and won't consider using the functionality, because of the impact using it could have if it was clear that the issue hadn't truly been resolved. Ask yourself…how many regularly updated software products do you use where you purposely avoid a feature, because an issue related to it has never been resolved? Somewhere, Articulate has got the mix of bug fixes versus feature requests wrong.
I don't know what might be happening in the company, but I wonder how many times the staff members responding to community posts get the opportunity to go back to a bug list/feature request meeting and say "Hey, that issue from 5 years ago came up on the forums again today". I don't know the mechanics of how they rank their bugs/features, but to me a simple formula might help….something like this…
That's just me playing with an idea…but if you look at the above and said "anything scoring 75 or greater gets worked on (by rank)", as the years tick over, less severe bugs or "nice to have" feature requests that resolve issues, start jumping up the queue (as they age) and get to the point where they can't be ignored. By way of an example, a bug that only scored 25/100 around 6 years ago, would now be scoring 125 points (25 * 6 = 125) and absolutely should be a top priority to be addressed.
Anyway, just a thought…I am worried that "Here's a workaround. Submit a feature request" is causing people to become more vocal to try and get long-standing issues resolved and that the priority on bug fixing might be favouring quick wins over long-standing issues, with new features almost a priority over anything except severe bugs.
In writing this article and using Storyline, I have come up with some things that I would like to see improved, both from the software itself and from the company. If I've not mentioned them already, here's my wish list of changes:
And before I proceed, I just also want to give a shout out to this article and the associated YouTube video that I found did a great comparison between Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate (although it is a bit dated).
I've been an Apple user for over 35 years. I have never owned any PC other than a Mac running Windows under Bootcamp. I've had the fortune to be in a role for over a decade where I was allowed a Mac, but now I use work PCs when required to do so. I have occasionally used Parallels to allow me to open the Windows environment whilst still logged into the Mac side of my home machine. Both Bootcamp and Parallels (or equivalents like Fusion or Virtual Box) are superb…but I have never used any of them to run a PC application on a regular basis from within the macOS…and I wouldn't consider it. There is no application that I regularly use that can only be run from within Windows. My Windows 10 environment is mostly for testing and the rare app that I can't get on a Mac (like one Steam game I wanted to play and one Java game, because I refuse to have Java installed under macOS).
Adobe Captivate certainly gains a lot of kudos for having a Mac version....but note that I have also raised concerns in a previous post about the current performance of Captivate under both a Mac and Windows environment. As a side note to this side note, I recently upgraded my RAM in my iMac from 8Gb to 24Gb so I don't know how well Captivate would now run. So while there is a lot about Articulate that impresses me, their lack of true Mac support is a brick wall I've hit my head squarely against. I'm sure I'll have an opportunity to use Storyline again in other roles, but it's not something that I want to consider for myself at home until there is a Mac version.
I've thoroughly enjoyed every moment using Storyline 360. It's a fantastic piece of software that allows you to create interactive, engaging and accessible content easily. It's part of suite of applications from Articulate that is ably supported by an active and vibrant online community, with support staff thoroughly engaged in keeping that community humming. I also have to give a shout out specifically to the Review 360 site and features, as it is something that we have made extensive use of.
Storyline is astoundingly easy to use, but sometimes disappointingly so. There are times when you use it to create quite complex interactions easily, and there are times when complexity requires workarounds and new ways of working that shouldn't be required. It's probably unfair to say that I could see Articulate as a gateway application for moving on to Adobe Captivate (if you so desire) at a later stage, but this is because I certainly recommend Storyline as the first port of call for those wanting to get into developing interactive eLearning content. That leap to Adobe Captivate is one that you may neither wish to make or need to, in the future.
There will be times when you say "I wish Storyline could do this…" and you'll find (frustratingly) that the solution is a workaround or possibly keeping fingers crossed that Articulate will introduce desired features as part of their oft-updated approach…an approach that is both impressive, confusing and perhaps (to be fair) placing too many expectations on them. But…to see issues being discussed on their forums sometimes for 5, 6 or 7 years without a resolution in sight, shocked me. They need to address their lack of transparency (or 'faux' transparency) related to how they truly deal with bugs and features requests. Hiding behind a standard, stock approach in forum posts started to get to me after only 6 months of use. And yes, to their credit their responses are more transparent than Adobe's…but the Adobe community forums are not the ones to be measured by in this instance.
If you want to extend beyond the simplicity and power that Articulate has to offer, then that may be the time that you consider Adobe Captivate. But Captivate also has many issues to trap those new (or even experienced) that can lead to frustration. To paraphrase, when discussing Adobe Captivate…with great power comes great complexity…and it may be something you simply opt to avoid and choose to stick with Storyline. Keep in mind though that Captivate allows you to do things Storyline can't, including truly responsive projects and Virtual Reality scenarios. But Captivate's interface has become confusing and dated, the performance of the application sluggish and its approach to community support sadly lacking.
Despite all this, I'll be happy to use either of these applications in the future…it's one of my favourite eLearning things to do! I know which is my preferred application (hint – it will never be the one that is a Windows only application) but I'll get great results from them both. If I'm contracted to use Storyline again in the future, bring it on! Storyline was astoundingly easy to use and working with it was fantastic. The speed in which I developed content was (if I am allowed to say so myself) impressive. Its simple approach to eLearning development was a pleasure to experience. And after all, simple is often the best and most productive approach to take.
Note – Thanks to ACC for allowing me to use the work that I did in these articles. The graphics used in modules were not created by me, but were from a suite of images that we were required to use in order to match with ACC branding.
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Philip Roy - eLearning specialist. Former owner NZMac.com, NZ Macguide writer, Adobe Education Leader & NZ Flexible Learning Leader.