Author’s Note: This blog entry is part of a series I started to explore two of today’s most popular eLearning rapid development tools: Articulate Studio and Adobe Captivate. Here is a link to an article that contains the whole Articulate vs. Captivate series.

With the rapid eLearning development tools becoming prevalent in the market, course development is getting faster and some aspects are getting easier and less costly. Among the many eLearning rapid development tools on the market, Articulate Studio and Adobe Captivate have become the most popular and widely-used among our clients.

As an eLearning consulting company, we are often asked for advice on which is best, Articulate or Captivate? This question is often asked by corporate learning groups who want to choose a standard tool for use within their company or group.

I want to note here that when I refer to “Articulate” in these blog entries, I’m referring to the full Articulate Studio package. While it is possible to buy individual Articulate products (like Articulate Presenter), I don’t think this makes sense for most needs because without the full Articulate Studio, the functionality and results would be limited.

So which is better, Articulate or Captivate? Of course, there’s no clear way to answer this question except to say “it depends”. Both tools work well in different areas and for different reasons. I’ll start this series of blog entries with the things that both Articulate and Captivate have in common. In upcoming entries, I’ll look at what each tool does well and not-so-well.

I have to add that the skill and experience of the developer does still matter. These tools are often purchased with the expectation that anyone will be able to use them to create great eLearning courses. The problem is that as developers and learners have demanded more sophistication from the courses that these tools produce, the number of features and the complexity of using these tools has increased with each new version. Whichever tool you choose, there is no substitute for knowing how to use it efficiently and effectively. The more skilled and experienced you are at using these tools, the better your results will be.

Since I’m a developer, I can’t resist starting with ease-of-development. From this standpoint, both tools are relatively easy to jump into (at least at a basic level) without extensive coding knowledge or formal training. Basically, developers use the built-in templates to build courses by adding written learning content, creating interactive components, and then adding audio, and so forth. The templates take care of the user interface, the navigation, and other features so these don’t have to be built from scratch as they would if you were developing using other technologies like Adobe Flash.

Both Articulate and Captivate have a number of features in common:

  • Quiz development – Both tools can develop quizzes with an assortment of question types to cover different needs and to provide variety.
  • LMS connectivity features – Both tools have features that allow the developer to define the LMS connectivity settings for the published course and then to save these settings. As with anything to do with an LMS, how close these settings get you to plug-and-play connectivity with your LMS will vary, but it’s still a significant advantage compared to developing courseware in other technologies.
  • Flash-based output – Both Articulate and Captivate produce Flash-based courses that play in a standard browser (of course, Adobe’s Flash Player must be installed). But even in this similarity, there is a difference to note. Captivate publishes courses in a single SWF (Flash) file, whereas Articulate publishes the course as a “package” that includes multiple SWF files in a pre-defined directory structure. There are some advantages and disadvantages to each approach and I’ll get into these when I discuss the specifics of each tool in future entries.
  • Learning interactions – Both packages can produce low to moderate complexity learning interactions and both can support branching. Of course, the type of interactions, the sophistication, and the ease-of-development varies with each package.
  • Skins, color schemes, and interface customizations – At a basic level, both packages allow user interface (UI) customizations. The developer can change color schemes, button labels, turn on /off certain features, and can change other UI elements. In my experience, the UI customization that users are most interested in is the ability to change color schemes to match corporate or group branding standards. Both of these packages offer enough options to keep most users happy in this regard.

Now we come to the point where the tools start to diverge. Articulate and Captivate work differently and each tool has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to certain features and uses. To understand which tool is a better choice, you need to consider the tools in light of you or your organization’s needs, and the types of training you develop or intend to develop. You also need to consider the developer skills you possess or, in the case of a corporate learning group, the skills you have available on your team.

In the following entries, I’ll walk through what I think are the key functions of each tool, the types of training that I think they work best for, and finally I’ll give some thoughts about developer skills, publishing and deployment concerns, and other considerations.

Author’s Note: This blog entry was the beginning of a series of a series I started to explore two of today’s most popular eLearning rapid development tools: Articulate Studio and Adobe Captivate. Here is a link to Part 2 of this series.

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