Editor’s Note: This Articulate vs. Captivate article originally ran as a series of entries on the Fredrickson Learning blog. Because of the popularity of this series, we’ve combined all of the blog entries into a continuous article to make it easier to read.

Articulate vs. Captivate Part 1: Comparing popular rapid eLearning development tools.

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 theLMS 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.

Articulate vs. Captivate Part 2: Exploring Articulate Studio

In the previous section, I started to explore two of today’s most popular eLearning rapid development tools—Articulate Studio and Adobe Captivate. Now I’d like to talk about each of them separately and in more detail, starting with Articulate Studio. In the process, I’ll also discuss some of the best practices that may help with your development.

Just in case you’re new to Articulate Studio, I want to mention that there are four main components: Articulate Presenter, Engage, QuizMaker, and Video Encoder. If you need info or a refresher on what each component does, have a look at Articulate’s website.

Let me start by asking you a simple question: What is Articulate Studio?

The answer I most often hear goes something like this: “Articulate converts PowerPoint to a Flash presentation.” Technically, this is a true statement and it’s one of the factors that attracts many people to Articulate in the first place—it doesn’t require much in the way of programming skills to jump on board. Although using Engage and QuizMaker requires more practice, most users can get familiar with these Articulate Studio components in a short period of time.

For those shopping for rapid eLearning development capabilities, it can seem as if all you need to develop a good course is PowerPoint content to run through Articulate and out comes eLearning. This is an especially attractive proposition for those who are tasked with “converting” instructor-led training courses to be delivered as eLearning.

The problem that I hear over and over from both eLearning developers and actual learners is that the “PowerPoint look” of Articulate courses wears thin very quickly. Something’s missing, but what?

To answer this question, I have to stray a little from talking about tools and take a quick dive into instructional design. As you probably know, the traditional use of PowerPoint is in classroom-based training, which is also called synchronous or instructor-led learning. By contrast, Articulate eLearning courses are, of course, an asynchronous (self-paced) learning experience.

You probably see where I’m headed already: even if the course contains the same content, we have to take quite different approaches once the delivery medium changes. To substitute for the richness of activities and interactions that can take place in the classroom, we need to build a new layer of richer interaction and engagement on top of the content in the PowerPoint in order to make it effective as an eLearning course. When this layer is missing, people see the course as a shallow PowerPoint presentation, not as real learning.

I know that this problem is not just an Articulate Studio problem, but because of Articulate’s direct link to PowerPoint, it seems even easier for Articulate users to fall into this trap. Remember, a PowerPoint presentation is only one ingredient. One ingredient doesn’t make a cake.

Fortunately, Articulate Studio gives plenty of options to produce a richer eLearning course that goes beyond PowerPoint. For example, Engage interactions, quiz questions, Flash movies, and even customized Flash games. In addition, Articulate allows you to deliver your content through branched scenarios, which is another effective tool to keep learners’ attention.

Articulate Studio offers a lot of eLearning potential in one package. I’m not going to do a feature-by-feature list here—you can easily get that information elsewhere. Instead, I’d like to highlight just a few of features that I think are significant and either little-known or not often used to their potential:

Articulate’s QuizMaker tool offers a plenty of new features to enhance the learning experience. For example, you can insert a blank page to deliver more content or the background story in order to set up a scenario. Also, with the “Slide View,” you can adjust the location of your question, the choices, and the related graphics.

  • You may also use the drawing tool to create simple graphics or add special treatment to the existing graphics. The new timeline feature allows you to adjust the timing on all of the elements on the page. For example, you can synchronize your choices with the audio.
  • With the annotation tool in the Presenter, you can easily add professionally-designed annotation shapes and spotlight effects to your presentation. This is extremely efficient and effective when creating software demonstrations with highlighted areas.
  • The source file management is easier than ever before. The “Send to Articulate Package” function packs everything you need, including the PPT deck, audio/video clips, and even the attachments, in a zip file. This makes it very convenient to hand off the project to client or to a different developer.

After this discussion of my favorite features, I feel I have to deliver a brief word of warning. I’ve been using Articulate for about 7 years now and the product has evolved significantly. Many people used to see Articulate as a simple tool that would enable anyone to develop eLearning. This may or may not have ever been true, but what has happened over time is that eLearning developers and instructional designers have demanded more and more sophistication. And Articulate has largely delivered, but this means that to get the most out of Articulate, you have to be more and more skilled as a developer to take advantage of the richer features. Therefore, I think it’s best to look at Articulate as a “development suite” and the results really are closely linked to the developer’s skill and the instructional designer’s understanding of how to design learning to take advantage of Articulate’s strengths.

Since most of the Articulate courses involve an audio presentation with closed caption text, it requires a different design approach in PowerPoint. Research indicates that when audio and static text are presented at the same time, audio is the most dominant and efficient channel. Therefore, it’s often a distraction if the bulleted text repeats the audio. In many cases, it’s more effective to replace bulleted text with graphical elements like photos, illustrations, and flowcharts, and animations.

In the previous section, we talked briefly about software training. Can I use Articulate to develop this training by itself? Again, it depends how and what you want to achieve in the training. If the training only involves demonstration, you can insert a series of screenshots on the PowerPoint slides, and then spice them up with the annotation tool in Articulate. Gerry Wasiluk posted some excellent information on this topic as comments to my first Articulate vs. Captivate blog entry.

Or, you may opt to use one of the screencasts tools, for example, the Screenr. With these tools, you can easily export your screencasts to video clips, and then insert it into your Articulate course later. However, if you want to drop in a comprehensive simulation in your course, I would say that Articulate is not your best option. If software simulation and is your goal, you should consider Captivate, which I will cover in the next entry in this series.

Of course, a transcript should be available so that learning content can be accessed by those who cannot hear the narration.

Articulate vs. Captivate Part 3: Exploring Adobe Captivate

In part two of 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 section, 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.

Articulate vs. Captivate Part 4: And the winner is. . .

In the previous parts of this series, we have explored the major features of Articulate and Captivate, and discussed the strengths and limitations of each tool. Of course, there really isn’t a winner. As I wrote at the beginning, the only answer to the question “Which is better?” is “It depends.” The tools have different strengths and the best fit depends on your needs.

And for larger organizations or those with more complex or varied learning needs, the answer to the question “Which should I buy?” is often “Both.”

Here’s a summary chart that I think clearly highlights the strengths of the two tools. Of course, some of these items can’t be reduced to a simple yes-or-no answer, so in some cases this chart simply reflects my opinion.

Chart

In 2012, we will see new players joining the rapid eLearning tool game. For example, Articulate Storyline and ZebraZapps are already attracting a lot of attention. There is also the possibility of new releases of Articulate Studio, Adobe Captivate, and SmartBuilder.

One of the interesting trends that we have noticed is the rise of mobile learning, and how the rapid eLearning tools are quickly incorporating functionality that gives them the potential to create mLearning content. For example, most of the new tools can publish your project as HTML 5 or in the mp4 video format. This gives eLearning developers an easier path to get a course running on Apple mobile devices such as the iPad.

I expect to see more projects developed with these new tools in 2012 and I will be using them myself for Fredrickson’s Learning business. As always, I’m glad to share my thoughts and findings with you.

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