REVIEW: Adobe Captivate 6

An eLearning best seller, Captivate 6 further extends the capabilities of the Adobe product for both authoring and interactive learning materials. New themes have been added together with ready-made interactions and human characters to liven up lessons. More important than these, however, is support for HTML5 publishing and much improved integration with Microsoft PowerPoint. Built-in video capture and editing tools are another much-needed option, along with better integration when it comes to learning management systems, plus enhancements to the quizzing functionality.

What for and how much

Captivate 6 is available for both Windows and Apple Mac platforms, albeit with a fairly hefty asking price of £714 (ex. VAT). Fortunately, existing Adobe users can upgrade for a lot less than this—prices start at £286 (ex. VAT) depending on what you’ve got already. The product can also be had as part of Adobe’s latest eLearning Suite (£1,429 ex. VAT) which includes not just Captivate, but the latest editions of Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Acrobat Pro, Presenter and Audition along with other tools and services. Upgrades to the new eLearning Suite are also available plus it’s possible to rent both Captivate and the eLearning Suite on a monthly basis.

Getting started

For our evaluation we tested the Windows version of Captivate 6 which comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, with a 30-day trial available to download and whet your appetite. Installation is straightforward, but you do need a well-specified PC with lots of memory and a fast graphics card to get the best out of the package.

It’s worth mentioning that our install required 2.4GB of disk space, and that didn’t include extras like the new library of characters which had to be downloaded and installed. You’re also advised to run Captivate 6 with Admin privileges on Windows 7 in order to make sure video capture and other tools work properly.

Apart from a few tweaks here and there the user interface doesn’t change much in this version, which is good news for existing Captivate developers. However, Adobe products do have their own way of working and, with yet more functionality in this much updated package, new users are likely to take even longer to get to grips with.

So, what’s new?

Support for HTML5 publishing is the headline new feature in Captivate 6, designed to make the Adobe software fit for the mPublishing generation. Flash, remains as an option but you can now publish in either SWF format, HTML5, or both with much the same interactivity regardless of format. Moreover, opt for both and learners can (in theory) begin a course on a desktop PC, pause it and then resume again on the bus home using an iPad, iPhone or Android mobile device.

This last feature does assume delivery via an LMS (Learning Management System), something also made easier in this release, Adobe claiming much better integration when it comes to the likes of Moodle, Blackboard, Plateau, Saba, and SumTotal. Added to which, when using HTML5, scoring data can be collected and learner progress tracked using any SCORM or AICC compliant LMS platform.

PowerPoint integration gets a major overhaul, enabling Captivate 6 to import presentations with a lot more fidelity than in previous versions, including support for animation effects right down to the word level in PowerPoint 2007/2010. The ability to edit PowerPoint originals from within Captivate has also been added along with auto synchronisation to keep materials current in both applications.

Adobe refers to all this as PowerPoint “roundtripping” and it’s a very welcome feature. Especially given the prevalence of the Microsoft presentation tool when it comes to designing eLearning courses.

Another major and long overdue addition is a new “capture-as-a-video” workflow. A big improvement over the old motion capture option, this does away with the need for separate video capture and editing tools when creating demos. Instead you simply choose the area of the screen to capture and away you go, with whatever appears in that area immediately recorded in high definition.

Once captured you can then edit the video, add transitions, audio and captions even insert a picture-in-picture talking head to explain what’s going on. The video can then be either saved or published directly to YouTube—all from within Captivate.

Beyond the headlines

Elsewhere, customisable themes deliver matched sets of backgrounds, styles, fonts, and layouts to make it a lot easier to create professional-looking materials in Captivate 6. You also get a professionally-designed set of interactions—animated charts and others widgets—which work both in Flash and HTML5.

A set of ten interactions is included as standard including a ready-made object to display a timeline, and others to handle a process cycle and pyramid stack all of which can be simply inserted into a project and customised to suit the learning involved. Themes can also be applied to interactions to match those applied elsewhere, with other interactions, Captivate themes and other extras available to purchase online.

Other nice features include customisable smart shapes that can be turned into buttons plus actors or characters that can be used to add a human touch where required. These come ready categorised—business, casual, medical and so on—with both photographic and illustrated characters included in the box. Again, others will be available for purchase from the Adobe store, but it’s not clear whether you will be able to add your own.

Lastly there are some useful new quiz options including the ability to configure pre-tests to assess knowledge or skill levels, along with branch-aware quizzing plus partial and negative scoring on multiple-choice tests. Users can, additionally, be allowed to revisit a relevant section when answering questions incorrectly (remediation) and penalised for wrong answers to discourage guesswork.

Inevitably there are a few things missing from Captivate 6. The video editing tools could do with some work, for example, and the user interface made easier to follow for newbies. Such niggles aside, however, Captivate is a very workable and workmanlike product and as a result of this upgrade, likely to remain at the top of the eLearning tree for some time to come.

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