Adobe Flex Authors: Matthew Lobas, PR.com Newswire, Shelly Palmer, Kevin Benedict

Related Topics: Adobe Flex

Adobe Flex: Article

Between a Rock and a Soft(ware) Place

Streamlining Web-based training development with Captivate & Flash

Captivate came along at a time when I was in a 'tight spot' as a web developer.

Imagine the words 'tight spot' said with all the ironic fret of George Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill in the film 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' and you will begin to identify with my situation.

It was April 2003. I had just been hired as a contract Web Based Training (WBT) developer by Children's Hospital Seattle. The task before me was to head up all technical development for the first robust WBT developed within the organization.

We were charged with creating an eLearning system to train all of Children's staff on a new medical orders system that was set to go live in November 2003. This new orders process was the biggest phase in a long term project of modernizing the way the hospital managed patient information.

Gone would be the clichéd days of unreadable prescriptions written in harried doctor's handwriting. Instead, all orders would be entered online into a new system where staff could interact with them collaboratively throughout the organization.

This is a case study of how Captivate has played into this WBT project at Children's and how we use this software in our ongoing eLearning products. If you are like me, how-to demos are valuable, but there's nothing like an in-the-trenches case study to help separate the deliverable wheat from the bandwagon chaff.

Now to move on to a few more details about this particular project.

Why an eLearning System? Why Custom?
As a 24/7 teaching hospital with over 3900 employees, 250 beds, and a constant influx of new staff and medical students, we had a lot of training to do.

Buying packaged eLearning software from the system vendor wasn't a viable option. Pediatric hospitals are very specialized organizations. Our medical orders system would be a very customized beast - quite different to the version our vendor implemented at regular hospitals.

Imagine the differences between a critical medication order for a two-week old baby and a 17-year old teenager and you begin to understand the complexity of a pediatric implementation of this kind of system.

Another driving force was the fact that using the medical orders system correctly was a huge patient safety gain - and simultaneously a risk. When incorrect use of a system can kill people, you tend to be very serious about certifying that everyone using it has demonstrated correct completion of the system tasks that are a part of their job.

With these requirements in mind, we began assessing what we had to build upon and what we'd need to develop ourselves.

Let's Make a WBT System!
Say 'Let's make a system!' with all the flair of a game show host saying 'Let's make a deal' and you will find yourself right alongside me during the first few weeks of the project.

Out of the gate, it was clear that there was no user tracking system in place that we could use to authenticate learners, track their progress, and report their results. In eLearning speak, these beasts are called Learning Management Systems (LMS). We put one LMS on the to-do list.

Another requirement was that learners would only see lessons that apply to the job they performed in the hospital. Doctors would see doctor lessons. Nurses would see nurse lessons, and so on. Now we were in the territory of a content management system (CMS). We added an integrated CMS to our list.

There was no user interface for the learner to navigate all of the lessons they needed to complete. We added the task of designing and programming a nice looking and easy to use web application shell to that list.

If you haven't noticed, our to-do list was getting pretty beefy. We haven't even gotten to developing the actual content yet, and the seven months between April and November 2003 is looking like an absurdly short amount of time.

Content Is Where Captivate Comes In
The last stage of assessment involved determining what process and tools we were going to use to build and deliver the content. We had to make quick, intelligent decisions on which web based eLearning delivery technology and tools to use. Would it be DHTML? Authorware? Flash? Other tools and technologies entirely?

We had 45 lessons that needed to move quickly through the storyboarding, editing, and finalization of the content phase and then on through technical production into deployment.

This is when I first came across Captivate (then known as RoboDemo) and it looked pretty good. It seemed a bit more robust than some comparative tools in the same price range (like ViewletBuilder or Camtasia) and was pretty user friendly. We definitely needed a tool that was easy for our non-technical Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to use. They had to have something where they could rapidly capture screenshots and prototype lessons.

Our SMEs in particular were nurses who had never done any kind of multimedia, software, or WBT development. Getting an easy to use tool where they could storyboard their lessons out quickly and easily was going to be paramount to the success of the project. Whichever reasonably priced tool could offer more production advantages beyond these basics would be a serious contender.

This is when I got wind of a coming enhancement that nearly made our decision for us.

.FLAs Directly from Nurses' Storyboards, Developers Weep for Joy
In June 2003, a new feature was released that allowed the exporting of Captivate files as fully editable Flash authoring FLAs.

There haven't been many times in my professional career that I can remember my exact reaction upon hearing 'such and such' news, but I burst into tears of joy when I read that announcement.

Yes, real developers do cry.

Here I was in my 'tight spot' trying to balance all the competing tasks of the project. I was looking for as much leverage as possible because we would not make our deadline without it. So much was not yet designed and was still unknown that we absolutely needed the most robust, scalable, and flexible technology to build our system.

Flash was robust enough to handle all the requirements of the client side of the application, but, as anyone who's built a robust Flash app will tell you, it takes a lot of work. You are not a junior college 'design hipster' cranking out 'bleeding edge' splash screens. You are building software - a Rich Internet Application (as many folks refer to them), and it is hard work.

We tested the export to FLA feature the day it was released and it did exactly what we needed - exporting all of the assets of the Captivate movies in an organized FLA.

This gave us the robust path we needed to rapidly prototype and build the content for our WBT - one that could quickly adapt to emerging system needs. I will touch on some real-world, saved-my-BLEEP, examples of this in a bit.

One important thing to note that we discovered in how this feature works is that exporting an .FLA requires that the Flash authoring environment be installed on the same machine as Captivate.

In that, it is not so much an export .FLA feature as it was an import Captivate to Flash MX (and later Flash MX 2004) feature. This is an important distinction that has been confusing to many since its debut. Misunderstanding what that means is a $500 difference if you need the supplemental software the function requires.

Our Production Process
So we adopted Captivate as our content capturing and design tool of choice, with Flash as our delivery technology for the client shell and the lessons. The production process we setup for the initial 2003 project looks very much the same today as it did then.

It would be really romantic to tell you that we use all of Captivate's great features (like AICC/SCORM compliant output or easily crafted audio narration), but we don't. In a nutshell we take the raw Captivate .FLAs and hand copy the backgrounds and captions from them and into the custom .FLA lesson template. This file houses all of the code required to track and manage everything in conjunction with our homegrown LMS.

Not very sexy, I know, but it makes good business sense. We are now at the point where we've been able to automate nearly all of our technical FLA production via the creation of custom captions in Captivate and the use of Flash MX 2004 JSFL scripted commands.

In all, it takes us less than 1.25 hours of technical production to create and deploy a 20 interaction lesson - and it's getting shorter all the time. This is for a template that includes the interaction and a demonstration of the task if the learner makes two incorrect attempts.

Happy We Chose Captivate
In all likelihood, we would not have met our initial 2003 deliverables without Captivate. We needed something that was inexpensive, easy to use for non-technical folks, and robust enough to leverage into the land of enterprise web application development. Captivate hit this sweet spot for us and continues to do so today. We've been through three versions of the software (RoboDemo 4.0 and 5.0, Captivate 1.0) and the current implementation is so much more robust than when we began using it.

Captivate 1.0's productivity enhancements continue to reduce turnaround times for our content. Notable timesavers for us have been: 1) Snap capture window to an open application, 2) recording defaults for caption styles that automatically set all captions to our design style guide during the capture process, and 3) visual timeline editing for each slide.

Captivate also continues to lead functionality wise for its price point. Cost of the next level tools is around $10,000. Knowledge Planet's Firefly (www.knowledgeplanet.com) or Epiance's Epiplex (www.epiance.com) deliver more functionality, but they do so at a steep price difference.

Captivate's Leverage Toward Flash FLAs Has Paid Off
Captivate's foot in the door toward Flash FLA development has also delivered big payoffs. Here are three of the real-world implications of Flash FLA development that have saved us from disaster:

Wider adoption means more developers...
Given the growing weight of the developer community behind Flash, it is easier to find developers for it than for many of the other less popular eLearning tools in circulation. In July 2003, when we needed an extra Flash developer to come in who was very code-centric, we had one within a few days.

Wider adoption also means more supplemental software...
In August 2004, when Microsoft quietly killed Internet Explorer's full screen chromeless window display mode with their Windows XP Service Pack 2 and effectively broke our WBT, we had third party vendors like Multidmedia (http://www.multidmedia.com) we could turn to for help.

They provided alternate fullscreen standalone projectors that would support seamless right click interactions in Flash - something that we had been mitigating with Internet Explorer dependent DHTML hacks since launching our initial WBT in 2003.

A mature IDE means more leverage...
The automation of the Flash MX 2004 IDE with JSFL is a dream come true for those of us faced with repetitive coding tasks that require just enough customization that they cannot be fully automated very easily. It's very satisfying to go to my command menu in Flash, click my "Text Entry" demo command, and watch it do 97% of the work for me.

The Last Word
Bottom-line - Flash as a technology and delivery platform is robust enough to quickly develop for and adapt to changing enterprise needs. When folks from elsewhere in the enterprise tell you they are about to make changes that will break your application, it's nice to have a robust enough technology that you can adapt in a reasonably short amount of time.

Having a tool like Captivate that strongly leverages content toward Flash FLA development for our WBTs enabled us to deliver the requested functionality. My clients are always much happier when my tools and technologies allow me to say "yes" when they ask "Can we do that?"

More Stories By Bryan Zug

Bryan Zug joined Children?s Hospital of Seattle in April 2003 to develop their first enterprise-wide web based training (WBT) products. The resulting web application is a combination of Flash, ASP, and SQL-Server technologies that serve as the key elements for training the hospital?s 2500+ clinical staff on a new medication ordering system introduced in November 2003.

Working as a web and multimedia developer since 1996, Bryan?s projects have included WBT, e-commerce, content management systems, and user interface design for clients that include Bermuda Fire & Marine Insurance, Volkswagen / Audi of Latin America, Premera Blue Cross, and Perkins Coie law firm, among others. Bryan has also performed quality assurance systems analysis for Real Networks and associated client partners such as CNN, ABCnews, CBS, FoxSports, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, and E!.

Bryan teaches an introduction to Captivate class which he developed for content experts at Children?s Hospital. He has also instructed college and high school classes that include electronic media design, advertising, public speaking, and sex education. Bryan has a BA in sociology from Pepperdine University in Southern California.

He lives near Seattle in Renton, Washington with his wife Jen, his daughter Ruthie, his son Thomas and their dog Scout. When not doing web development, Bryan serves as a pastor for Harambee Church in South Seattle where he provides career counseling, performs leadership development mentoring, and leads film and creativity classes.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Most Recent Comments
Michael Kehoe 08/10/05 03:04:20 PM EDT

I came across this statement in the "Between a ROck and a Soft(ware) Place" article:

They provided alternate fullscreen standalone projectors that would support seamless right click interactions in Flash - something that we had been mitigating with Internet Explorer dependent DHTML hacks since launching our initial WBT in 2003.

How is/was the right-click interaction created. I have owned Captivate since it first came out several months ago and was advised that the right-click interaction was not possible because it is reserved for Flash. If ou can solve this issue for me it would save me from having to switch authoring tools.

Many thanks...?

@ThingsExpo Stories
Personalization has long been the holy grail of marketing. Simply stated, communicate the most relevant offer to the right person and you will increase sales. To achieve this, you must understand the individual. Consequently, digital marketers developed many ways to gather and leverage customer information to deliver targeted experiences. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lou Casal, Founder and Principal Consultant at Practicala, discussed how the Internet of Things (IoT) has accelerated our abilit...
In his keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Sheng Liang, co-founder and CEO of Rancher Labs, discussed the technological advances and new business opportunities created by the rapid adoption of containers. With the success of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and various open source technologies used to build private clouds, cloud computing has become an essential component of IT strategy. However, users continue to face challenges in implementing clouds, as older technologies evolve and newer ones like Docker c...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, discussed the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
No hype cycles or predictions of zillions of things here. IoT is big. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, Associate Partner at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data analytics considerations, edge-to-cloud tec...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settl...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dr. Robert Cohen, an economist and senior fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute, presented the findings of a series of six detailed case studies of how large corporations are implementing IoT. The session explored how IoT has improved their economic performance, had major impacts on business models and resulted in impressive ROIs. The companies covered span manufacturing and services firms. He also explored servicification, how manufacturing firms shift from se...
IoT is at the core or many Digital Transformation initiatives with the goal of re-inventing a company's business model. We all agree that collecting relevant IoT data will result in massive amounts of data needing to be stored. However, with the rapid development of IoT devices and ongoing business model transformation, we are not able to predict the volume and growth of IoT data. And with the lack of IoT history, traditional methods of IT and infrastructure planning based on the past do not app...
Organizations planning enterprise data center consolidation and modernization projects are faced with a challenging, costly reality. Requirements to deploy modern, cloud-native applications simultaneously with traditional client/server applications are almost impossible to achieve with hardware-centric enterprise infrastructure. Compute and network infrastructure are fast moving down a software-defined path, but storage has been a laggard. Until now.
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
The best way to leverage your CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at CloudEXPO. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audienc...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that All in Mobile, a mobile app development company from Poland, will exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO. All In Mobile is a mobile app development company from Poland. Since 2014, they maintain passion for developing mobile applications for enterprises and startups worldwide.
"Akvelon is a software development company and we also provide consultancy services to folks who are looking to scale or accelerate their engineering roadmaps," explained Jeremiah Mothersell, Marketing Manager at Akvelon, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
JETRO showcased Japan Digital Transformation Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo® at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is a non-profit organization that provides business support services to companies expanding to Japan. With the support of JETRO's dedicated staff, clients can incorporate their business; receive visa, immigration, and HR support; find dedicated office space; identify local government subsidies; get...
The current age of digital transformation means that IT organizations must adapt their toolset to cover all digital experiences, beyond just the end users’. Today’s businesses can no longer focus solely on the digital interactions they manage with employees or customers; they must now contend with non-traditional factors. Whether it's the power of brand to make or break a company, the need to monitor across all locations 24/7, or the ability to proactively resolve issues, companies must adapt to...
"We view the cloud not as a specific technology but as a way of doing business and that way of doing business is transforming the way software, infrastructure and services are being delivered to business," explained Matthew Rosen, CEO and Director at Fusion, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), held June 7-9 at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that the upcoming DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO New York event will feature 10 companies from Poland to participate at the "Poland Digital Transformation Pavilion" on November 12-13, 2018.
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICC-USA, a computer systems integrator and server manufacturing company focused on developing products and product appliances, will exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO. DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. ICC is a computer systems integrator and server manufacturing company focused on developing products and product appliances to meet a wide range of ...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smart...
Major trends and emerging technologies – from virtual reality and IoT, to Big Data and algorithms – are helping organizations innovate in the digital era. However, to create real business value, IT must think beyond the ‘what’ of digital transformation to the ‘how’ to harness emerging trends, innovation and disruption. Architecture is the key that underpins and ties all these efforts together. In the digital age, it’s important to invest in architecture, extend the enterprise footprint to the cl...