Author: Ed McLean


Is Articulate Storyline right for you?

New to eLearning? This series summarises the key “need-to-knows” of four eLearning course authoring tools: Articulate Rise, Evolve, Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline. In this post we look at Articulate Storyline.

A pricey, powerful, high-end eLearning course authoring tool that gives great results to those with time, interest and effort. All that’s missing is the capability to create truly responsive courses.

What I like about Storyline

  • Power: Storyline and Captivate are very similar pieces of software that are arguably equally powerful. Like Captivate, Storyline is based on a PowerPoint-like blank page. It also offers course authors the capability to build complex custom interactions (using built-in logic called “triggers” and JavaScript). Storyline does though incorporate some neat additional tools that are absent in Captivate, including dials and sliders that can be used to create really interesting interactions. Storyline.
  • Stability and smooth operation: Using Storyline is a smoother experience than Captivate. It’s smarter, cleaner and more modern. In my experience the courses created are more stable (i.e. more likely to work as planned first time) than Captivate’s.
  • Community: Articulate’s community is second-to-none, with lively forums, plentiful up-to-date YouTube videos, as well as real “community spirit” events such as eLearning Challenges, where users of the software are challenged to create an eLearning interaction along a certain theme or using a certain element.

Things to be aware of

  • Does not create responsive courses: Frustratingly there is in my opinion no meaningful responsive design function that allows courses to be used on mobiles, tablets and desktop/laptops alike. Storyline courses can be set to resize when viewed on a smaller screen, but something that looks great in a desktop can be far too small to be readable/usable on a mobile in portrait mode. Articulate does provide a “mobile player” that essentially makes the navigation/menus of your course responsive (i.e. they are resized for use on a phone), but the content itself remains the same in any device. Another option for those who subscribe to Articulate 360 is inserting an interaction created in Storyline into a Rise course (Rise is part of the Articulate 360 subscription and is fully responsive), but here still the interaction itself will simply resize rather than rearranging itself in a tidy way appropriate for the screen. These solutions are appropriate for some uses, but not all.
  • Learning curve and complexity: As with Captivate, to use the power offered by Storyline a course author will have to invest significant time and effort into learning how to achieve the results they desire. Again, there are templates that might offer exactly what you need (or you’re prepared to compromise). Consequently, Storyline is not a great choice for the casual, occasional eLearning course author.
  • It’s expensive: A lifetime licence for Storyline is $1,398. If you want it as part of the Articulate 360 licence (so that Rise and other tools and resources are included) it’s $1,299 per annum.

Take a look at a Storyline course here.


Is Adobe Captivate right for you?

New to eLearning? This series summarises the key “need-to-knows” of four eLearning course authoring tools: Articulate Rise, Evolve, Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline. In this post we look at Adobe Captivate.

Ready to invest time and effort? Captivate offers you a blank slate to build responsive courses with a higher level of interactivity than web-based solutions. It’s a fraction of the price of the nearest competition. Beware though, some course authors report instability when creating complex courses.

What I like about Captivate

  • Power: As it is software rather than web-based, Captivate packs a lot of punch. You have a PowerPoint style blank slate into which you can insert and arrange images, text, shapes, videos and more. Built-in logic in the form of “actions” and “advanced actions” and the ability to run JavaScript (the programming language that powers most interactions on the web) mean that with time and skill you can built extremely complex interactions such as scenarios or basic simulations.
  • It is possible to build responsive courses that display on any device: Captivate’s “fluid box” technology is unique among high-end authoring software in that it allows course authors to arrange elements on the slide and then tell Captivate how to rearrange those elements on smaller devices. Although most web-based authoring tools offer a responsive solution, they lack the power that Captivate offers. The very quick video below shows how fluid boxes rearrange content depending on the screen size.
  • Price: For £34 per month, it’s a fraction of the price of its nearest competitor Articulate Storyline (though, Storyline is bundled with numerous additional services so some might say the comparison is unfair).

Things to be aware of

  • Learning curve and complexity: From using Articulate Rise for the first time, a course author could easily create an attractive responsive course with, say a tabbed box, some video, flip cards and other basic elements within an hour. Using a solution like Captivate perhaps 50 -100 hours of learning and experimentation would need to take place before such a course could be built. This time could be reduced if the built-in “learning interactions” were used. These are essentially templates of various elements like tabbed boxes, though they are not especially attractive and are not configurable enough to suit every need.
  • A less active support community: Although Adobe’s Captivate forum is reasonably active, with certain individuals contributing a great deal, Articulate’s forums are far more lively. There are also fewer tutorial videos on YouTube.
  • Can produce unstable results:  My personal experience is that if you use the full power of Captivate to create complex interactions you risk courses crashing or not running as expected. This interaction below only fully worked after extensive debugging which involved  removing every element on the page one-by-one to see which element was causing the interaction to crash.

Is Evolve right for you?

New to eLearning? This series summarises the key “need-to-knows” of four eLearning course authoring tools: Articulate Rise, Evolve, Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline. In this post we look at Evolve.

Evolve is a web-based eLearning course authoring tool. It artfully balances powerful, customisable course elements with the simplicity of a web interface. It can do more than Rise, but it requires a little more expertise and patience.

What I like about Evolve:

  • A balance of power and simplicity: On the surface, Evolve sounds like a Rise clone. It’s not. Compared to Rise, Evolve has more elements to choose from and many more ways those elements can be configured to suit your needs. There are also a variety of ways to alter the appearance of your course.
  • Courses work on any device: Courses created in Evolve work on any device, with no extra work required form the course author.
  • Brilliant branching: Branching scenarios can be incredibly powerful and interesting learning experiences, but in traditional tools they can be very complex to set up. Evolve provides an excellent visual mindmap style interface for designing branching scenarios that makes them much quicker and easier to implement. There’s even an element that allows branching videos.

Evolve - Branching function

  • Collaboration: Like Rise, it’s web-based, allowing any number of course authors to share, work and comment on courses across your organisation.
  • A fair price: At £30 per month it’s significantly less than some of the higher end tools on the market and cheaper much to get your hands on than closest competitor Rise (which requires an Articulate 360 subscription).

Things to be aware of

  • Settings for each element can be extensive: Some users who wish to tailor elements of their courses may be intimidated by the sometimes quite exhaustive settings. With power comes complexity!
  • Limited immediate support: Compared to Articulate, there are fewer tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere and, although there is a forum, it is not as active. On the plus side, the Evolve team have always answered my emails quickly and fully (and they’re UK-based so there’s less waiting around for an answer).
  • Powerful, but not as powerful as Storyline and Captivate: For a web-based tool you can do a lot, but it is simply not designed to provide the full “blank page”/design-whatever-you-want power of higher end packages. You will be working within limitations (but you’ll be working faster and easier than with many of the alternatives).

Is Articulate Rise right for you?

New to eLearning? This series summarises the key “need-to-knows” of four eLearning course authoring tools: Articulate Rise, Evolve, Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline. In this post we look at Articulate Rise.

Rise is a web-based eLearning course authoring tool that is only available as part of the Articulate 360 subscription. It offers the fastest way for all staff to create reliable courses that work on any device. Many of its built-in limitations can be overcome by using in conjunction with the more powerful authoring tool, Storyline.

What I like about Rise

Rise is strong where high-end authoring tools like Storyline and Captivate are weak.

  • It takes no time to learn: The learning curve with Rise is virtually non-existent. Course authors are presented with a visual menu of elements that can be added to the course (see image, below). They then simply click to add them and then click again to tailor them. After 30 minutes of learning, even your least technical staff will be ready to start creating courses.

Rise - Visual menu

  • Courses work on any device: Rise is essentially a template into which you insert content. That template has been designed to work perfectly on laptops, mobiles, tablets and any other device. A course author can create a course and be confident that it will work anywhere. Take a look at the responsive functionality in this short video (no sound).
  • Rise ensures you stay on-track: Because it’s a highly tested template and it’s so easy to use, Rise doesn’t give you the opportunity to over-complicate or over-engineer your courses. Rise courses won’t require extensive troubleshooting from a technical point of view.
  • A great tool for collaboration: Because it’s web-based, colleagues from across your organisation can collaborate on the same courses, review/make comments, duplicate and so on.

Things to be aware of

  • Most of Rise’s various standard elements are tools for presenting information, such as flipcards, click to reveal, accordions, etc. Without clever learning design the risk is that course authors create little more than an information websites (rather than learning experiences that require thought, decision-making and recall from memory – elements proven to contribute to learning.) Rise does offer multiple choice questions, a sorting activity and other elements that might be used to create a richer experience, but they are inflexible and could easily be overused (“Please, no more multiple choice questions!”)
  • Rise’s standard elements are what they are: Do you want a message to pop up after the third item is placed in your drag and drop? It can’t be done. Do you want a choice a learner made earlier in the course to be presented back to them at a later stage? It can’t be done. Rise is easy to use because its standard elements have limited functionality and therefore don’t require extensive setting up.
  • Lack of branding/design flexibility: If you’ve ever used Rise, you will be able to spot another Rise course instantly. Although logos can be added and colour schemes can be changed, because of the template approach, it is usually not possible to completely match a company’s exact brand guidelines or other graphics requirements.
  • Pricey: As Rise is only available as part of the Articulate 360 licence it’s $1,299 per annum to get your hands on it (though you’ll get Articulate Storyline and other tools as part of the deal).

Rise’s secret weapon

If you like the sound of Rise’s ease of use, but you’re put off by the downsides you may be interested to learn that it is possible to insert slides created in Articulate Storyline (included in the Articulate 360 subscription) directly into Rise. This is big news. Storyline is arguably the most powerful authoring tool on the market, allowing you to build whatever elements you wish (and are skilled enough to build) to insert into your Rise course.


AI is coming to eLearning. Prepare to be disappointed.

As someone who grew up with 2000AD, I can’t help sitting down at my computer every day and wondering what went wrong.

Why don’t I have a robot sidekick? Why can’t I describe an eLearning vision to my Alexa and see its holographic form take shape in front of my eyes, before swiping it away Minority Report-style? Why am I sat here struggling to get Photoshop to do what I want?

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Roy Amara, scientist and futurist.

Although there are pockets of really interesting uses of AI in elearning, it feels like in the last couple of years our society has tipped over the peak of our overestimation.

It seems to me that the near future of eLearning development is more likely to be a plugin for authoring tools that, for example, facilitates the acceptance of natural speech from users or that spots what a developer is trying to build and suggests ways to proceed (“Are you creating a tabbed box? Shall I create the required variables?”) .

Then again, maybe those predictions are the overestimation Amara was talking about?

What about the “long run”? If we look at the history of the future, the only thing we know for sure it that we are hopeless at predicting it. Let’s just enjoy the ride, with each authoring tool update at a time.

Instructional design

ID Models (5/5): Which should I use?

In this brief series of posts I have briefly introduced;

  • ADDIE: A sequential process that, in its classic form, gives you only one shot at meeting everyone’s needs and expectations.
  • Rapid Prototyping: A flexible but less defined process of creating multiple prototypes to test and learn as you go.
  • Successive Approximation Model (SAM): A more structured form of Rapid Prototyping.

Let’s not over-complicate things. Each model is essentially a different way of doing the same things; thinking about what you are trying to achieve, building something and then evaluating what you’ve built. The big new idea that has become almost universally agreed upon is that iterating/prototyping almost always leads to better results.

Most teams take an iterative approach to their use of models. They try them out, see how they work and alter them to suit their needs and their organisations. As long as your team is on the same page, why not just do what works?

Instructional design

ID Models (4/5): SAM

Unlike ADDIE, Rapid Prototyping gave instructional designers and developers the flexibility to jump around in the process and incorporate continuous improvements. Allen Interaction’s Successive Approximation Model (SAM) took rapid prototyping and added some welcome structure that allowed individuals and teams to iterate and change direction with a bit more order.

SAM actually comes in two flavours. SAM1 (for smaller, simpler projects) and SAM2 (for everything else).


SAM1-80SAM1 is a three stage cycle of Analyse, Design and Develop. You might be thinking, “That sounds a lot like ADDIE!”. The difference between SAM1 and ADDIE is that SAM1 is designed to be cycled three times. In the first cycle of the three stages you create a rapid prototype. Then you start the second cycle, Analysing the usage/feedback from that first prototype. As you continue with each cycle the product improves until after the third cycle the finished product emerges.


Asset 7-80SAM2 is the heavyweight version for more complex projects. In the Preparation phase information is gathered and a kick off meeting gathers all stakeholders together to discuss goals and ideas for the project. Then the project moves through to the Iterative Design phase which, like SAM1, cycles rapidly three times, but this time through Design, leading to a Prototype which allows you the opportunity to Review and, cycle again! The end result is an advanced prototype called a Design Proof, a working (but not complete) version of the product that allows you to test out whether your design is likely to achieve your objectives and whether you have the systems and capability to produce it.

Next, the Iterative Development phase cycles, you guessed it, three times through Develop, Implement and Evaluate. The result should be a final product that, because it incorporates feedback from stakeholders throughout, avoids any wrong-turns and is far more likely to achieve its objectives.

Instructional design

ID Models (3/5): Rapid Prototyping

A good instructional design model should help us produce output that meets the objectives of all stakeholders. As we saw in the previous post, ADDIE in its classic form too often does not achieve this because it requires the instructional designer and developer to get everything right first time, without ongoing feedback from stakeholders and the chance to change direction.

Today, with the advent of Rapid Prototyping, from very early on in the process instructional designers and developers create quick and imperfect prototypes and share them with stakeholders, including sponsors, SMEs and learners. Working fast is encouraged. For example, instead of building a complex interaction in Articulate Storyline a quick paper mock-up might be made, allowing the instructional designer to observer learners (or at least colleagues or stakeholders) using the interaction and evaluate its effectiveness, before putting days of work into development. The interaction might change (and improve) recognisably several times before it finally gets created.

In Rapid Prototyping the Design, Development and Evaluation stages of ADDIE are intermingled. The feedback that flows throughout the process means that the final output is many times more likely to meet the everyone’s needs than with classic ADDIE’s “right first time” approach. Instructional designers and developers feel able to innovate and try out new things, knowing that anything that doesn’t work can be ditched. Stakeholders understand better what is being developed when they can get their hands on it, rather than trying to imagine it from a storyboard.

On the down side though, the complexity of moving an inexperienced team back and forth through the process and trying to coordinate everyone’s schedules, work and feedback means it is challenging for inexperienced teams to use Rapid Prototyping.

To tackle this complexity, Allen Associates developed a Rapid Prototyping model that combines the flexibility of prototyping with a clear structure. It’s the next model in our series, the Successive Approximation Model (SAM).

Instructional design

ID Models (2/5): ADDIE

ADDIE dominated instructional design for decades and, to give it its credit, has provided many of the base ideas for the instructional design models that came after it. Its beauty is that it is essentially a linear process that is easy to understand:

  • Analysis: Who are the learners? What is their current level of performance and where do they need to be? What about timeline, resources, constraints, etc?
  • Design: Define your learning objectives. Review and organise the content. Decide on exercises and interactions and how they will be delivered (e.g. courses, quizzes, videos, text, etc).
  • Development: Storyboard (describe in words and images the experience of using the training) and then create the learning content.
  • Implementation: Rollout and promote your learning content.
  • Evaluation: Evaluate how effective your training has been in relation to the learning objectives, possibly using an evaluation model like Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Learning Evaluation.

On first impressions it seems logical, manageable and uncomplicated. But today very few organisations use ADDIE (at least in its classic unaltered form). Why?

Imagine an instructional designer and developer take on a new project and beaver away for weeks creating a piece of learning content. Triumphantly they unveil it to stakeholders. The fanfare fades away. The marketing manager didn’t think it was going to work like that. The sales manager’s unhappy with its appearance. The managing director has a host of ideas about how it could be improved. But the budget has been spent and the course is launched as-is. Learners find it confusing to navigate and are disappointed that it doesn’t cover some key areas.

ADDIE’s great weakness is that there is little opportunity for stakeholders to provide feedback until the project reaches its end, when it is too late to make significant changes.

Consider though what would happen if there was a way of getting such feedback, not at the end of the project, but just 10% of the way in, when you could easily change direction. What if you could also get feedback at 20%, 40%, 70% and at any other point?

Enter the next instructional design model outline in this series, Rapid Prototyping.

Instructional design

Instructional Design (ID) Models (1/5)

Do instructional design (ID) models help us to create better learning content? Or are they over-complicated, rigid processes that promise more than they deliver? Should we adopt a model unquestioningly or adjust it to our situation and organisation?

There is a lot to think about when creating learning content. ID models claim to breakdown the complexity and show us the creator’s suggested path through it, in stages that a team can follow. We just have to hope that the creator knows where to take us.

In this series of posts I will introduce you to three of the most established ID models, namely:

  • ADDIE: A sequential process that, in its classic form, gives you only one shot at meeting everyone’s needs and expectations.
  • Rapid Prototyping: A flexible but less defined process of creating multiple prototypes to test and learn as you go.
  • Successive Approximation Model (SAM): A more structured form of rapid prototyping.

Which is right for you depends on the nature of your project, the culture of your organisation and your appetite for managing complexity.

Let’s begin by learning about the model which almost all proceeding models are based on, ADDIE.