Publishing and Viewing Courses: What’s the deal with Flash and HTML5?

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If you’re new to elearning development, or using Storyline or Captivate for the first time, you may have struggled to learn the software only to experience new issues when trying to view your first published course. Viewing your courses locally (i.e. viewing local files in your browser) is more challenging than ever as browsers continue to crack down on Flash.

So let’s talk about what’s going on when you open your published course only to find a blank screen!

blog post title: publishing and viewing courses

Flash (SWF) vs. HTML5

Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline publish in both SWF and HTML5. So, what is Flash/SWF? And what is HTML5?

Long story short – before HTML5, there was no easy way to put video or animation or interactivity into a webpage with using add-on software that users had to install themselves, like Flash.

Here’s an old video that talks about what Flash does: What is Flash? (YouTube). Flash used to be the only way to deliver animated and interactive content. Now, Flash is considered outdated, and a security risk by major browsers (like Chrome and Firefox) such that Flash content is often blocked. This is a problem if you publish Captivate courses in SWF, which is the Flash file format.

However! HTML programming caught up so that we don’t really need Flash anymore – we have HTML5! Here’s a good, short overview from 2011: What is HTML5? (YouTube).

Now that it’s 2017, HTML5 has matured, and it basically does everything that we used Flash for. And, HTML5 is not a security risk. Furthermore, you may have heard that Flash is dead and/or dying, but it finally got a death date: 2020! See: Flash & the Future of Interactive Content.

This is important stuff for you to know as an elearning developer! You don’t have to know code (though it helps), but you do have to know how to publish your courses so that your learners will be able to access them.

You need to know this stuff so that you can publish your learning object and your learners can access it! If your learner can’t view your learning object, it’s likely that Flash is blocked in their browser.

Here’s a really great how-to guide from Articulate on viewing courses locally: Local Playback of Published Content.

Delivering Your Course

Adobe Captivate will publish your course as Flash (SWF), as HTML5, and as a PDF (which is just Flash in a PDF). Or, it will also publish your course as an app for Windows or Mac. All of these have pros and cons. Storyline will publish in Flash and HTML5, but not as a PDF.

HTML5 is a mature technology, but that doesn’t mean that Storyline or Captivate always do a great job publishing in HTML5. It might be glitchy. But, Flash often causes problems as well due to browsers trying to block it. It’s neat to publish your learning object developed in Captivate as an app – but this can be a security risk as well, and you’d have to publish for both Windows and Mac.

If you’re not using an LMS, you’ve got to host your course on the web so that you can distribute a link to your learners. If you are not knowledgeable about web hosting, this has a bit of a learning curve. Here’s a good video explaining web hosting: What is web hosting? (YouTube).

If you are interested, here is some info on how to publish your course to a web server: