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Adobe Captivate

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In: Reviews > Product Reviews

By Ken Westin

Published on November 6, 2006

Adobe Captivate, formerly known as Macromedia Captivate, is the eLearning and screen capture product originally named RoboDemo. Despite being offered by three different companies over the past few years, Captivate has survived the changes without suffering from feature bloat.

Captivate is a nice tool that does what it is supposed to do, and stays out of your way while doing it. You don’t need to be a Flash guru to use the tool, nor do you need to hire outside help to create engaging and informative software simulations and tutorials. With the latest release of Captivate, Adobe has added quite a few new features, while still keeping the application user-friendly.

Get Started Quickly

One of the best aspects of Captivate is its ease of use. Subject-matter experts can focus on the content of their lessons without having to spend a lot of time learning a new tool or technology. The opening screen provides a simple menu that allows you to get started recording your tutorial, or read through some simple and cleanly written documentation before beginning.

Adobe Captivate Opening Screen

By clicking on the Record button, you are provided with some choices regarding the viewing area that is recorded. You can select an application you have running, a specific size, or you can select the entire screen.

Adobe Captivate Choice Panel

Here’s an example. I select Application and then, from the list of applications that are currently running, I select Photoshop. I go through various menu items, click on elements, or drag items, and Captivate takes snapshots as I progress through the movements. I then click back on the Captivate application and stop recording. When I’m done recording, I am presented with a storyboard of the actions I took.

Adobe Captivate storyboard layout

I can then go into each section and make edits by clicking on the Edit tab. In edit mode, I can clean up the presentation, adjust cursor movements, edit and add additional labels, as well as edit or add audio to each section. This can be the area with the steepest learning curve for those not familiar with the timeline concept, but with a few hours of playing with the controls, it becomes quite intuitive.

Scenario-Based Training

In addition to software simulations and tutorials, Captivate also comes with the ability do scenario-based training, using PowerPoint-like slides (you can also import PowerPoint presentations). To make them truly dynamic, Captivate will import video clips, Flash movies, and other multimedia elements. One huge improvement in Captivate 2 is the ability to create branching based on user interaction, customizing the materials presented based on the user’s input. For example, the user of your presentation might choose between “Yes” or “No,” and be taken to a different section based on that choice.

Quizzes and Surveys

The ability to add quizzes and surveys further enhances the interactivity of the presentations. The quizzes and presentations themselves can be integrated into a learning management system (LMS) such as WebCT, Blackboard, or my personal favorite, Moodle—the open source LMS.

The Final Product

You have a few options when it comes to the format of your final product. One of the features that makes Captivate stand out in comparison to similar products is the ability to export the contents into a SWF file. This does quite a bit to help with the size, scalability, and overall quality of the online playback.

If you have a Breeze account, you can publish the contents directly to your Breeze server. If you want to build a standalone executable to run from a CD-ROM, you have the option to publish the file for Windows, Macintosh, or even Linux. You can also export to an FLA file for those Flash gurus out there who want to really customize tutorials.

The Bad

My biggest issue with Captivate is the limited options for output formats. Although the ability to output to a SWF is great, I would have liked the option to output to a video format such as MPEG, Quicktime, or FLV directly. In addition, the canned skins get a little old; it would be nice if Adobe provided a way for users to add their own branding and layout options for the player skin.

Another beef is that Captivate 2 is still a Windows-only application. I find this rather surprising, given the high concentration of Mac users in the educational community who could benefit from this tool. The output, however, is viewable on any system with the Flash player installed, including Mac and Linux.

Summary

Adobe Captivate is a great tool for developing eLearning content. The ability to create software simulations, scenario-based training, branching presentations, and quizzes that integrate with learning management systems put it in a category all its own. The price for Captivate 2 is $599, the upgrade price is $299. Academic pricing for Captivate 2 is very reasonable at $199. Given the timesaving potential, features, and integration with other products such as PowerPoint, Flash, and learning management systems, Captivate 2 is definitely a mature product worth the price of admission.

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Related Topics: Prototyping, E-Learning

 

Ken Westin is based in Portland, Oregon and is currently the Founder and CEO of GadgetTrak, the provider of mobile security and theft recovery solutions.

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