Captivate’s Back…Alright?: How Adobe’s Last Approach to Reflowable Elearning Flopped While Articulate’s Flew

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Incredibly, Adobe has finally launched a brand new redesign of Captivate. If you’ve been holding your breath since 2021 when the redesign (termed “Project Charm”) was announced, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking it had been sidelined and was never going to happen, especially since there were almost no updates and Adobe hasn’t been showing up to major industry conferences.

But finally, the brand new Captivate is here and it looks more like Adobe’s other industry-leading software and less like a time warp from the 90s. And, interestingly, it’s mobile-friendly by default. Captivate guru Paul Wilson offers an overview of the completely new interface, just launched June 29th. Will this be an industry game-changer?

How did we get here?

Over the last few years, major players Adobe and Articulate took two very different approaches to software updates that allowed developers to create courses that work well on both widescreen desktops and narrow phone screens.

First, there was Adobe’s approach. The industry legacy software Captivate was first launched in 2002 (then called RoboDemo). It was updated in 2017 with a new feature to create reflowable content. The feature, deemed “fluid boxes,” could be used as a sort of container in responsive projects to organize and resize content so that it reflowed for small screens. The software even had a slider in editing mode that would allow the developer to preview each slide on a variety of screen sizes.

Unfortunately, while well intended, fluid boxes did not take off. They were clunky to implement and frustrating to debug. In 2021, Adobe announced that a major redesign of Captivate was underway to bring it in line with the rest of their  industry-leading software, but for the last two years that effort seemed to go nowhere. There was only an update or two, leaving Adobe Captivate 2019 as the moldering but somehow most current version of the software available on Adobe’s website.

Even before fluid boxes were introduced, Adobe Captivate’s market share was being gobbled up by Articulate and their suite of elearning software. One reason why Captivate floundered is how Articulate approached this reflow problem.

Instead of attempting to retrofit their industry-changing software Storyline (first launched in 2012) to reflow for small screens, Articulate went back to the starting line and produced something entirely new in 2020: Rise. This standalone software, distinct from Storyline, produces content that is reflowable by default.

However, the cost of reflowable-by-default content is that Rise limits developers’ freedom and creativity. In Storyline, each slide is infinitely customizable. Adding in triggers and variables to the mix can result in projects as complex and joyous to experience as some professional video games.

In contrast, content in Rise is added in blocks, with the resulting experience being a linear, scrollable experience, rather than the customizable experience you would find in Storyline. There are no triggers or variables, though Rise does allow for branching scenarios and Storyline courses may be embedded in blocks. Overall, though, a Rise course tends to have a certain look to it due to the limits imposed by block-based design.

Still, both Storyline and Rise have their place in creating solid elearning. Storyline works best on traditional computer screens while Rise works everywhere, with the added bonus that Rise courses are quicker and easier to update.

“New” Captivate

Astonishingly, two weeks ago Captivate finally launched the completely redesigned software that they promised back in 2021. Captivate 2019 will continue to be supported as it’s still widely in use (many organizations need it for updating existing courses), but it will now be called “Adobe Captivate Classic.”

“New Captivate” is a subscription-only model. The interface appears clean and modern. While New Captivate retains the slide-based format of Captivate Classic, content is now added via blocks, à la Rise, to enable mobile-friendly results.

The default style is sort of a Canva-light, which is what you would expect from a software created launched in 2023. Where Captivate 2019 defaults to plodding dark colors that belong in your parents’ elearning, New Captivate has friendly, easy-to-read text and bright-and-happy graphics. There’s much more to learn yet about how variables and Advanced Actions work (or don’t!) in New Captivate, but it does promise to be accessible and 508-compliant, which is great.

Here’s hoping to see Adobe back at DevLearn this fall!