The Fast Track to Custom E-Learning

Written by James Kingsley — Posted in Articulate Presenter

This guest blog entry was written by Articulate MVP James Kingsley.


It used to be that choosing an e-learning development tool was like choosing between a Yugo or a Ferrari. You could use PowerPoint, which was easy and accessible but had lots of limitations (it was impossible to track with an LMS and hard to distribute online, for starters). Or you could use Flash, which was super-cool but costly, complex, and required special skills to really do things right.

Then came rapid e-learning tools like Articulate Studio. They’re the Honda of e-learning: affordable, stylish, and dependable. The tools make it easy for anyone to quickly turn out high-quality content that’s simple to deploy and LMS-friendly.

So we all stopped driving Yugos and bought Hondas.

Get the performance of a Ferrari and the value of a Honda

The thing is, while rapid e-learning works great, sometimes you might want to add an interaction or feature that’s more complex than the tools allow. This doesn’t mean you have to go sink your money into the Ferrari.

If you have access to a Flash programmer — or if you have Flash skills yourself — you can extend the power of your e-learning courses by plugging in bits of custom Flash in just the places where you need it.

This means we can have the best of both worlds! We’re not limited to choosing between custom and rapid. We can combine the two. It’s like driving that trusty Honda but adding some specialized Ferrari parts so you get exactly the features you want. It’s a low-cost, high-speed approach that’s also fun and powerful.

Adding custom parts

One way to add custom elements to a course is by building interactive SWFs and inserting them into your project.

Here’s an example. It’s a sorting tool I created to help learners think about a topic and discern data. The learner creates a list of related items and then sorts them into categories. (For you geeks out there, I used Flash’s _global property for this.)

View this screencast at Screenr

If this is the kind of stuff that interests you, feel free to visit my blog,, where I often post code and files like the one used in the screencast above.

To see another example of a custom Flash interaction inserted into an Articulate Presenter course, check out this screencast from David Anderson.

What this means for e-learning development

As a Flash programmer, I’m thrilled about the idea of blending rapid with custom. It means that I don’t need to toil with things like programming my bullets to load at one-second intervals, or ensuring that the Next button actually loads the next slide. I can leave stuff like that to Articulate and spend my time doing the things I love: creating new interactions that are engaging, efficient, and effective (I borrowed those 3Es from my boss, Orva.)

All this is great news for rapid e-learning developers too. You don’t need to be a Flash expert, or hire a squad of Flash coders, to build great e-learning. You can build your courses with Articulate tools, and supplement with custom Flash if you need to — just insert the content as a SWF or a Web Object, and you’re good to go. And if you do have Flash programming resources, you can spread those talents across many projects. If you outsource, you can hire out for just the custom pieces rather than the whole course.

As Tom Kuhlmann has pointed out, this is a great way to make your e-learning budget go much, much further. You might even find that the custom stuff you need is already out there on the web, for free or for a small price.


I’m active in the Articulate Community Forums, as are several other Flash developers. So if you have questions about how to create or incorporate custom Flash in your Articulate projects, post a thread there and we’ll do what we can to help you out. The forums are also a nice way to gain insights and ideas from other designers and developers who are using or building custom Flash for e-learning.

I’d also recommend checking out the work of Dave Moxon and Dave Mozealous, as well as Brian Houle. They’re each doing some really cool things to combine rapid e-learning with custom elements.

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