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.

In my last blog entry in this series, I explored Articulate Studio in more detail. Now it’s time to do the same with Adobe’s Captivate.

Captivate is a comprehensive rapid eLearning development tool for creating software demonstrations, interactive simulations, and quizzes. Compared to Articulate Studio, Captivate offers a better workflow to take the developer from screen recording to the process of interaction building. Most Captivate projects follow the “see it, do it” approach. In the “see it” segment section, the learners watch a recorded demonstration. In the “do it” segment, the learners complete a series of tasks in the simulated environment — for example, adding information to a customer’s account.

Like Articulate Studio, Captivate provides the users with some essential functionality, such as customized skins so that the look and feel can be modified. It also offers text/graphic animations, audio synchronization, interactive components, and publishing options for both web and LMS delivery.

Let’s take a closer look at these features.

  • Customized skins. Both Articulate and Captivate offer the flexibility to customize the “skin,” which is the user interface of the eLearning course. In Captivate, the developer has more options to choose different control bar from the gallery, and then perform further customizations with different color schemes. You can also create your very own project skin from scratch, either by developing it in Flash, or by building it in the Captivate Master Slides (available in CS5 and higher).
  • Animation. Unlike Articulate, which builds the animations in PowerPoint, Captivate creates all types of animations with the “effect” function on the Flash-like timeline. In the earlier version of Captivate, the animation types were limited to fade in/out and animated text. Starting from CS5, more animation can be applied to any object, such as a caption box, a graphic, and/or a drawing. The functions also offer precise control on the timing of an animation–for example, having a box fly in from the left of the screen at exactly 14.5 seconds.
  • Audio synchronization. To synchronize audio in Captivate, the best approach is to use the timeline. This might be challenging to the users who are not familiar with timeline-based applications, such as Flash or Premiere. Comparing Captivate directly to Articulate, the initial synchronization process could take longer in Captivate. However, it is a lot easier to adjust the synchronization in Captivate. For example, if you later decide you want a caption box to come in a little earlier, you can precisely adjust the timing of this object without touching anything else. Articulate requires a user to re-synchronize the whole slide, which is much more time-consuming.
  • Interactions and branching. Instead of using a pre-built template such as Engage, Captivate creates its own games and interactions by using rollover captions, buttons, and slidelets. Starting from CS4, Captivate introduced variables and ActionScript. This allows the developer to create more complicated learning activities within Captivate. Of course, advanced programming skills are required to perform this kind of development, so again we see the trend of these rapid development tools becoming more like “development suites.”
  • Publishing for both the Web and the LMS. Like Articulate, you can publish your Captivate project for both Web and LMS delivery. Your project, including the audio, the text, and the interactions, are compiled in one SWF file. The playback skin, animations, and widgets can be exported into separate SWF files within the delivery package. If your project contains too many slides or too much audio, the loading time will become a major issue. In this case, you may consider splitting your course into smaller modules, and then binding them with Adobe Aggregator. Another well-publicized issue is AICC compliance, but it seems that Captivate has resolved this in version 5.5.

To enrich the functionality of Captivate, Adobe has developed some add-on applications, such as text-to-speech, widgets, a review tool, and a quiz result analyzer and aggregator. Developers can find even more add-ons from Adobe Exchange server. Articulate has a similar online community, and encourages the developers to submit their customized interactions.

The main difference that I have observed between the two online communities is that the Adobe Exchange community tends to be more willing to share code and methods for free. Of course, these are often just the starting point, the developer then needs to finish the object. The Articulate community members, on the other hand, will often offer finished enhancements such as interactions, but because these are finished objects that took larger amounts of time to create, the members often want to charge a fee.

After comparing Articulate and Captivate side-by-side, we have seen a lot of similarities and a few significant functional differences. One of the biggest differences I can highlight is the development process and the mindset it takes to get the most from these tools. In the next entry, I will conclude this Articulate vs. Captivate comparison series by discussing my views of the circumstances and uses where I think each of these tools excel.

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