I finally got the chance (read time) to take the new product Articulate Storyline for a spin. Now this product has generated a remarkable buzz in the industry and according to many people it’s the third best thing in the world after chocolate and red wine.
Articulate Storyline has been called a Game Changer and the question is if it can win a die-hard Adobe Captivate fan like me over.
I own Articulate Studio ´09 and that was more of an impulse purchase to be honest. I only really used it once or twice, because I found it to be limiting and not really suited for my purposes. One of the main drawbacks was the lack of possibilities to modify the design of the Engage Interactions, but I really liked the Articulate Quiz Maker functionality.
In my opinion the main drawback of Articulate Studio ´09 is that it is based on PowerPoint. I simply can’t imagine myself creating eLearning courses in PowerPoint (and that goes for Adobe Captivate as well!).
I am by no means a “purist” or “elitist” but I do think that Microsoft PowerPoint is best used to bore people to death with slide after slide after slide..
I had read that Articulate Storyline was a stand-alone product that wasn’t depending on Microsoft PowerPoint so when I installed and launched the trial version I almost fell of my chair.. Articulate Storyline was like PowerPoint in new clothes. The only thing missing was that little annoying paper clip guy saying “How can I help you today?” (I think MS phased that one out in PPT 2000 but you get my point).
Next step was to go through a couple of the “Getting Started” tutorials to get the general idea of how the program works and the tutorials were very good. Articulate did a good job on making it easy to get started with using the program. There are plenty of tutorials and resources available for you to play around with that will get you going in no time.
The interface of Articulate Storyline is more or less a clone of Microsoft PowerPoint, which also helps you feel at home pretty quickly if you are used to working in the newer versions of the Microsoft Office applications. The interface works pretty well in Articualte Storyline and is easy to find your way around.
I read that when downloading the trial you would receive an email from your “Dedicated Articulate Storyline Coach” that would help you get started and that you could direct any questions to. However, I didn’t receive an email from Articulate after downloading the trial but maybe they know I am a Adobe Captivate fan or maybe they have had so many trial downloads that they have run out of coaches ;o)
[edit:May 16th, 2012] After writing this post I was contacted by an employee from Articulate offering to be my personal coach and help me out with anything I needed. We also found out why I didn’t receive the original mail from Articulate. I am not based in the US so I didn’t use a .com email and therefore the “Coach email” should have been sent to me from Articulate’s partner in my country. Apparently there was a bug in the CRM system at that time causing my local Articulate partner to not get notified about my trial download.
Anyways the tutorials and the well known interface make it easy to get started working in Articulate Storyline.
So for the next day and a half I messed around with Articulate Storyline creating some small sample projects, interactions, scenarios, drag and drops, publishing courses to HTML5 and iPad and basically trying the program out in every way I could think of.
Below here are my observations on my Articulate Storyline test run. Now please note that when I list something as missing or not being possible in Articulate Storyline then it may very well be that it is actually possible, but I just haven’t found the right way to do it yet. If you do spot something wrong then please leave a comment so I can correct it.
Articulate Storyline is a great program. It’s much much better than Articulate Studio and after working with it for a couple of hours I was actually having fun trying to think up weird ways of creating content and scenarios.
I have only written down the main highlights and downsides here because otherwise the post would become way to long. So here they are in no particular order.
Clipart and images:
Articulate Storyline comes with a variety of different clipart people with each person available in different poses and moods. There is also an option to purchase a “photo pack” which includes real photographs of people in different poses and moods as well.
The trial version comes with all the clipart people and one of the “real people” called Atsumi that you can play around with. I am positively surprised with the quality of the photographs. They are extremely high quality and probably the best in the market right now.
I am not entirely sure if the full version also comes with the Atsumi character, but I would assume so since it is available in the trial version. Otherwise a character pack with 8 additional characters is available for purchase for $599 now (regular price $2.392) and for free if you already own Articulate Studio ´09.
It is definitely worth $599 for the extra 8 character sets if they are of the same high quality as the Atsumi model.
For me – even if I wasn’t going to use Articulate Storyline it would be worth paying for it just to get the image packs for free. In my opinion this is one of the really big key selling points for Articulate Storyline
Triggers and object states:
This is indeed a really cool feature and I am surprised that it is so easy to work with. A lot of thought has gone into this from Articulate and that really shines through.
It is simple to build even complex scenarios where you can have characters changing state and appearance and display custom feedback based on the user choice.
What makes this even cooler is that the scenarios you build are reusable. Once you have built your scenario you can insert this into other projects and quickly change pictures, text etc. and in a very short time you have a new scenario adapted to that particular project. This is brilliant and is a big timesaver if you are creating lots of courses. Building things once and being able to reuse the content easily is something that every eLearning designer likes and something your manager can relate to as well since it will save time and money.
One minor nuisance with object states on the photographic people images is that the default states (“happy”, “angry”, “confused” etc.) aren’t set up as they are on the clipart people images. This means that you need to create “custom states” to work with the photographic images in scenarios when you want the character to change their expression. Luckily it is rather quick to create these custom states, but it would have been easier if they had been setup per default instead.
Articulate Storyline handles exporting to HTML5 exceptionally well. The tests that I did all worked beautifully and that is really a great accomplishment by the Articulate team. Well done indeed.
Publish to iPad:
Again brilliantly executed. I tested a couple of the Articulate Showcase courses and one I created myself on my iPad(3) and they worked perfectly well. It is a clever idea to wrap this into a player app to circumvent the limitations that Apple iOS has for audio and video content.
One thing that I would like to be able to do is to modify the appearance of the iPad app so it could display my corporate logo and use my corporate colors, but I do realize that this may very well not be possible to do with the current setup.
It would be great if it was possible to download / purchase a version of the iPad app that you could customize to your corporate identity and upload to the Apple store yourself. That would make it really powerful for big organizations that want to offer a more customized look and feel to their courses and course player.
Light box slide:
What a great idea. The ability to create a slide with all of the functionality in Articulate Storyline and then use that slide as a “Light box slide” from any other slide in your project is really powerful.
Modifying the playbar:
I know that it is possible to modify the playbar and use your own buttons because I have seen that in one of the showcase demos, but I am uncertain as how it is done. This is a crucial point for me as Corporate ID is a very important factor.
[edit: May 16th, 2012]: See the comment from Jeanetter Brooks below for information on how to customize the player.
I don’t think that it is possible to have proper closed captioning in Articulate Storyline. You can use the transcript or you can create an additional layer that can be shown if the user wants to see Closed Captions. However, it’s basically just a text field being shown all at once and that isn’t going to work out for me. If you have a slide that is 50 seconds long with voice-over and want to display the text as “Closed Captions” then it would cover most of the slide area due to the length of it. Closed Captions to me are timed pieces of text that are shown on the screen in sentences when the relevant audio is playing – just as you see with subtitles on foreign movies.
Alignment of text and objects:
One other thing that annoyed me throughout my test run is that it is cumbersome to align things properly on your slides. Sure you can create master slides with placeholders for text and images, but that poses some other problems (for example if your images in some areas are larger than your placeholder).
If I have multiple objects on my stage I would like to be able to align them all “left” or “top” or “Distribute vertically” etc. easily. In Articulate Storyline you will find these tools in “Home” – “Arrange” – “Position Objects” – “Align” or in the object specific menu (Drawing Tools, Picture Tools etc.) when one or more objects are selected. It would have been nice to be able to enable an “Alignment” toolbar or at least have keyboard shortcuts for these functions.
[edit: May 16th, 2012]: Jeanette Brooks posted information in the comment below on how to use the design grid and rulers for this. Although it is a solution and easier than using Master Slides, I would still prefer to have the Alignment Toolbar more easily available to me.
Could it be done in Adobe Captivate?
I have only been playing around with Articulate Storyline now for a couple of days but so far I haven’t seen anything that wouldn’t be possible to create in Adobe Captivate.
However… Articulate Storyline does have a couple of obvious advantages over Adobe Captivate.
The biggest advantage in my view is the reusability of things. If you create a scenario / interaction in Articulate Storyline you can easily reuse the entire structure and setup in a new course and you only have to exchange the text and images. All basic structure, triggers, states etc. will be preserved and that is brilliant.
This is a massive time saver and would allow you to create a library of different interaction types, that you could then use in your courses almost plug-and-play style.
In Adobe Captivate you can create the same scenarios / interactions as you can in Articulate Storyline but it is much more complex. In Adobe Captivate you would need to use custom variables, advanced actions, show / hide images on a slide etc. It would also need to span across multiple slides in order to work best in Adobe Captivate.
Okay so once you have created your interaction in Adobe Captivate – which would take longer time than with Articulate Storyline – then you can of course reuse that in your other courses.. Well no.. The thing is that in Adobe Captivate these things are not really reusable at all. You are able to copy the slides and the objects, but custom variables and Advanced Actions cannot be copied from one project to another.
There are workarounds such as saving your interactions as a template project and start off all new projects based on that template, but it’s not an optimal solution to be honest.
One other thing that Articulate Storyline can do natively is the creation of Drag and Drop interactions / quizzes.
Drag and Drop interactions isn’t per default available in Adobe Captivate. However, here you have the brilliant Drag and Drop Widgets from InfoSemantics to help you accomplish this task. These widgets allow you to create complex drag and drop scenarios in Adobe Captivate with minimal effort.
Using these widgets you can create scenarios in Adobe Captivate that are much more advanced that the ones you can create in Articulate Storyline. When playing around with the Articulate Storyline Drag and Drop functionality I did find it a bit limiting in some aspects. For example when I drag an object to a target I would like my object to disappear when it is dropped on a correct target. Also I would like to have a “reset” interaction button so that I could reset the Drag and Drop interaction to its default state and start over again.
I couldn’t figure out how to do any of these in Articulate Storyline with my Drag and Drop interactions, but maybe I’m just not looking in the right places.
[edit: May 16th, 2012]: Again from the comment from Jeanette Brooks. “Reset interaction” can be achieved by a button with a trigger that reloads the slide. It is also possible to make dragged objects disappear when they hit their correct target. I’ll need to play around with this some more and see what I can figure out.
In other areas Adobe Captivate is much more advanced that Articulate Storyline and will allow you to build more complex courses. This of course also means that the learning curve for Adobe Captivate is higher than Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate has also had some shortcomings in all of the versions to date.
One thing that Articulate Storyline (and Articulate Studio) does brilliantly is making it super easy to deploy a course to an LMS. You hardly ever hear (at least I haven’t seen them) complaints about courses not working in a customer’s LMS. However with Adobe Captivate this has been a recurring issue since version 2 and in version 5.5 it is still giving people problems.
So the obvious question is how does Articulate Studio compare to Adobe Captivate?
Articulate Storyline has certainly raised the bar on Rapid eLearning Development Tools, but comparing Articulate Storyline with Adobe Captivate directly is difficult.
For some people Articulate Storyline will be their tool of choice and for some people Adobe Captivate will be theirs. Then you have people that will be using both applications and maybe even a totally different application to create their content.
I don’t see myself changing to Articulate Storyline instead of Adobe Captivate, but I must admit that I am positively surprised by Storyline. The ease of building complex interactions and scenarios and on top of that be able to reuse these in other projects is really a big plus.
The image packs for Articulate Storyline is also a key selling point. Not so much because of the fact that you can purchase these extra images for a relatively low price but because they are of exceptionally good quality. I have used similar character packs purchased from third-parties and stock sites in my Adobe Captivate courses and while the images were acceptable they cannot compare to the images that you can get with Articulate Storyline.
Adobe Captivate also have some strengths compared to Articulate Storyline. One of the key reasons why I am sticking with Captivate as my main development tool is the round-tripping I get when using the Adobe eLearning Suite. I am able to work in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Flash and Adobe Captivate with some unique round tripping possibilities.
I never use a “stock template” for any of the courses I develop. All my templates are designed in Adobe Photoshop and I am a firm believer in giving each course its own visual identity and appearance. I know that I can do that in Articulate Storyline as well, but it seems like a major part of the application is based on themes and templates. I prefer starting from a blank piece of paper and then creating my visual design from that. My colleagues work in a different way so this is very much an individual choice.
Other powerful features in Captivate is of course the possibilities to add Widgets, a pretty powerful Advanced Actions capability (although the lack of export / import of actions is a shame), the possibility to export and import XML files for quick localization of content, real Closed Captioning and advanced tracking and reporting capabilities.
I consider myself a power user of Adobe Captivate so I also enjoy that I can access almost anything I want in Adobe Captivate by writing dedicated Flash “animations” or Widgets that can access Captivate system information.
For me Adobe Captivate is my tool of choice, but I am not hesitant to put Articulate Storyline into my toolbox as well because it is a good product and I can see some use cases where Storyline will be helpful for me. They really managed to create a good product but don’t think that Adobe is sleeping its beauty sleep – I am certain that they have some good things in store for us as well for future version of Adobe Captivate.
Finally – the last thing that I want to comment on is the recent discussions that there has been on the whole “Community” issue. Articulate do have a very strong community and some very helpful bloggers such as Tom Kuhlmann with his Rapid Elearning Blog, which I also subscribe to. However, saying that Adobe Captivate does not have a strong community isn’t really fair in my opinion.
The advantage that Articulate has is that almost all of their community is centered on http://community.articulate.com. This naturally makes it easier to find solutions and help.
The Adobe Captivate community is way more diversified. You have individual bloggers like me, Rod and Tristan Ward, Lieve, Jim. You have the forums on http://forums.adobe.com/community/adobe_captivate and http://captivate.adobe.com/captivate where you have Rick Stone, Lieve and Rod Ward again doing an exceptional job on helping people out. You have the Adobe Captivate Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/adobecaptivate and the Adobe Captivate Developers blog http://blogs.adobe.com/captivate/. Finally you have an active Twitter community centered on the #adobeCaptivate and #cpTips hashtags and 4-5 LinkedIn groups.
There is plenty of community out there, but it might be a bit difficult to find the right channel that works for you. However once you do there are almost always people that are ready to help you out.
Okay – I guess that was all that I could think of writing about Articulate Storyline vs. Adobe Captivate. Articulate really managed to create a great product with some cool features. It’s great news for all of us in the eLearning world because it is exiting times to be working in this field. Competition is healthy and will help raise the bar for all of us. Now I’m off because I need to get started working on a new “Light Box Widget for Adobe Captivate” because that feature in Storyline is just awesome ;o)
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