Macromedia hopes it can Captivate us all

Macromedia targets its Captivate product at the booming e-learning market. With a whole clutch of enhancements, Macromedia has tried to make it really easy to prepare, deploy and evaluate online course material.

Captivate was once known as RoboDemo but the company hopes the name change better reflects the product's new focus.

Silke Fleisher, product manager for Captivate, says RoboDemo was seen as a recording tool for creating demonstrations. In contrast, Captivate enables user interactivity and this "captivates" your users and improves retention, she says.

In practice, there seem to be three target markets. Firstly, the traditional how-to tutorial that has been so well served by previous versions of Robodemo. Secondly, Captivate can be used for course material preparation for distance learning. Finally, Captivate can be used in sales and marketing to prepare interactive simulations for prospective customers to evaluate your software or electronic services.

In Captivate, there are two main recording modes: demonstration and simulation. The choice of modes reflects whether you expect the user to be active or passive. You can create a demonstration for a passive user that exercises some piece of software or process. A simulation is where you prompt a user through a prepared path of an application with hints, rewards and corrections.

While simulations have much higher success rates with a user, they have also been quite expensive and complex to create. Fleisher says that Macromedia hopes to change all that with the release of Captivate. It is now possible to produce walkthrough types of e-learning material much more easily and quickly with Captivate, she says.

The areas of greatest improvement seem to be in the editing and the standards compliance. Each frame of a presentation or lesson can have a number of captions, soundtracks and click boxes. These can be controlled with drag and drop time-lines in a manner very similar to Flash development. Because the underlying presentation is frame-based Captivate is less likely to have synchronisation problems compared with some of its competitors.

The presentation/courseware is rendered with Macromedia Flash. Fleisher says her sample demo with twelve frames of walking users through changing their browser settings compressed down to 300k. Because it is compiled down to Flash, you can control the quality of the graphics at the expense of bandwidth, she says.

For standards compliance, Macromedia has embraced Section 508, which details the US government accessibility guidelines. There are also emerging standards for the integration of e-learning material with a teacher's learning management system (LMS). Captivate supports both the SCORM and AICC standards.

If you are a producer of online courseware, you should check for integration between Captivate and your current LMS.

Macromedia has kept Captivate's NZ retail price the same as RoboDemo at NZ$850 (AU$779) The upgrade price from RoboDemo 4+ is NZ$515 (AU$472).

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