For over 10 years, I have been working with teams that develop interactive e-learning modules using Flash technology, and I am far from being the only one.
Recently, our clients have increasingly been acquiring tablets, and the majority of them have opted for the iPad. Of course, the common question that pops up is: “Why can I not view the e-learning modules on my iPad”.
The technical explanation is because Apple iPad decided not to support Adobe Flash on its device. We explain to our clients that this was a very controversial decision, but that it was defended by Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs who sees HTML5 as the future of the interactive Web. At first, this was regarded as an unwise move on their part, but one which does not seem to have affected their sales. There have been attempts to create applications to allow Flash content to be viewed on iPads, but we have not tested this yet with our content.
We also explain that, for the moment, there are tablets that support the Flash Player. This list might not be up to date, as it doesn’t list the BlackBerry Playbook, which supports Flash. That said, we have not tested our courses on them all these tablets either, nor can we guarantee that the screen resolution is high enough for the modules. There are also opinions that Flash-based content is not really compatible with tablets.
This explanation, though technically sound and legitimate, does not address the issue that more and more of our clients are acquiring the iPad, as well as other tablets, and would like to view their e-learning modules on them.
Unfortunately, our clients, the learners, are the ones stuck in the middle of this technology battle.
For the last 10 years, the Web has been interactive in large part because of Flash. A huge portion of the interactive e-learning modules segment of the e-learning industry runs on it. Some of the authoring tools created applications in Java or other technology, but they have historically been a smaller segment of the market.
So much like our firm, the industry right now is wondering “What we are going to do in the future?”
And to complicate the issue, last week, our firm had a huge upset in regards to Flash. We received some technical alerts from clients who could not view their e-learning modules, regardless of all the troubleshooting tips we prepared for them. We were finally able to isolate the issue after extensive research, which is that the latest update of Flash (Flash 10,3,183,5) does not work with our online modules. Adobe has been sending mass updates for its Flash Plug-in, our clients have been installing it and as a result, they cannot view their e-learning modules. We have been working with them to uninstall their Flash Players and revert to an earlier stable version. For most of our clients, this is disconcerting, time consuming, frustratring, and I can understand them.
This whole ordeal was a shock to us, as our Flash-based authoring tool has been successfully creating e-learning content for over 5 years now. Some research on the Web proved we were not the only ones who pulled our hair out with this update. In fact, the bug reports are increasing on the Adobe forums. The irony in this whole situation is that this Flash Player update fixed a problem with Apple’s Mac Operating System. Ouch!
I am certain this will be resolved soon, as Adobe has no interest in losing its dedicated Flash user base. The future of the interactive Web, according to some experts, is HTML5, though not all experts are in agreement. My opinion is that Adobe Flash is a state of the art technology that not only enabled the Web to be interactive and in-motion, but has grown with the demands of the Web. As our expert Flash guru and Creative Director Stéphane Richer of Noise Communications points out to us, we have not seen the end of Flash yet.
That said, 3 weeks ago, Adobe launched an HTML 5 Web animation tool, most likely a strategic move to not lose its market share of interactive Web applications.
So getting back to our problem, in the future, we are going to have to consider how we build e-learning applications if we want them to be accessible to our client base. Some online discussions focus on whether or not Adobe Flash is still the appropriate technology for developing e-learning applications.
We will also have to give serious thought in product updates, and if we convert our e-learning module players to HTML5 or create different versions for different platforms. This however means a significant financial investment and I’m sure our firm isn’t the only one facing this issue right now. The bottom line is, no matter what we do, if we do not adapt our technology to meet the client demand, we are not going to be ahead of the game.
Kristina Schneider is organizational learning and performance technologist, merging instructional and systems technology with knowledge, project and operations management. Her book Edublogging: a qualitative study of training and development bloggers investigates the value of edublogging as a form of self-directed learning and its potential contribution to communities of practice.