If you want a simple way to interject interactivity into your eLearning courses, check out Articulate Engage. The folks at Articulate describe Engage as ”a quick and easy tool that lets you create lean-forward experiences that learners love”. I’m not exactly sure what lean-forward means — but they’re right on the money with the fast and easy part.
Even a monkey could use it
An intuitive, uncluttered interface makes Engage mind-numbingly simple to use — Not being one who likes to expend unnecessary brain power, this alone makes it a worthwhile purchase. It’s so easy most people won’t need any instruction to use it — most simians won’t either.
Engage comes with ten flash-based interactions that will jazz up even the most basic page turner. Just pick one, enter your content in the template, press a button, and Bob’s your uncle. The only challenge, and part of the fun, involves figuring out which interaction to use for your content. Just because an interaction was designed for FAQs doesn’t mean you have to use it for an FAQ. Articulate provides excellent tutorials, demos, two really great blogs, and online forums to help get the creative juices flowing.
You can publish your content to several formats. I especially like that you can publish to Microsoft Word. We use this option a lot as a way to distribute the content for review although we did have some issues with Engage crashing when trying to generate the Word documents.
Here’s a labeled graphic interaction that I put together in about 5 minutes. It uses the default settings for the colours, fonts, navigation and labels.
Click here to see the Engage interaction
We often use the labeled graphic interaction for software training — we insert a screen image and then use the labels to highlight key elements. The really cool thing is that you can add audio and media (image, video, Flash, even another Engage interaction) to enhance the experience.
If you explore the posted interaction, you’ll see that I nested the Engage interaction within itself a couple of times just for fun. Some of the other interaction types handle this better but this one should give you a taste of what can be done with just a little imagination. Ah but I digress.
A little yoga wouldn’t hurt
The thing that makes Engage great — its beautiful simplicity — also poses a limitation. Take the presentation template for instance. I can adjust the elements such as the colour scheme and fonts, but I want more flexibility. Give me the ability to change the style of the player controls, the title bar and import my own buttons and arrows for the labeled and guided interactions. We rarely use Engage on its own so would give anything (well almost) to be able to hide the title bar when integrating the interaction into a larger course. It’s funny, you can make the background transparent but not the header bar.
I modified the colour scheme in a guided image interaction to illustrate what I mean.
10 out of 12 monkeys wanna do this
Within each interaction type, there are only a few places to insert text or media. This could be construed as a good thing as it forces consistency and makes it harder to screw up the design. I find it a little restrictive. Take my simian (sorry, I mean monkey) example for instance. I could only add one main image in the labeled graphic interaction. This meant that I first had to use another tool to combine all my separate monkey pictures into a single image. I’d rather just insert the separate images and have the flexibility to move them around to get the optimal positioning.
In some interactions, I can’t re-size the imported images, videos or Flash files. In others, I can. Why not make them all function the same way? There is a work around in which I can edit the sizes in the data.xml file that is produced with the published output, but this is inconvenient as I’d have to make this edit every time I publish the file.
There are options to control the playback. Unfortunately, we rarely use the one that sets the presentation to advance by itself because there is no way for the learner to pause the playback or step back to review something they missed. Seems to me like something people might want to do.
At the risk of sounding cranky, (I love this product honest), I have to mention the file naming convention. When publishing an interaction, Engage always names the output file engage.swf and the content folder engage_content. This isn’t an issue when using Engage with Articulate Presenter, but we often import multiple Engage interactions into other authoring tools such as Lectora. Each time we publish an interaction, we have to manually rename the output files to give them unique files names; otherwise, they will overwrite one another when exported from the authoring tool. This makes dealing with revisions a pain.
The importance of the company one keeps
Some products have great potential only to be ruined by poor marketing, sales and support. Some companies hide their products from view forcing you to buy them before you can even see the list of features. Here I’d like to give a shout out to Articulate. This is one awesome company. Not only do they provide a fully-functional 30-day trial version of Engage, they do an excellent job of showcasing their products and building a user community. Everything from the design of their website to their excellent demos, blogs and customer support reinforce the message they believe in quality.
How to make a monkey happy
Aside from an unlimited supply of bananas, the following enhancements would really make Engage rock.
- More interaction types — an interactive flow chart or work flow diagram would be nice for starters. To their credit, Articulate makes the SDK available. If you have some Flash knowledge and a little imagination you can make your own interactions and even share them with the wider Articulate community. People have not grabbed on to this yet, at least the sharing part anyway. We’d like to hear what other people think might make a good interaction or any feedback from people who have tried working with the SDK.
- Give us the option to name the output files/folder
- Give us an option to hide the title bar.
- Add an easy way to link different Engage presentations together.
- Add an easy way to synch the audio with graphic labels.
- How about a rollover option in the labeled graphic interaction?
- Engage output currently displays at 720×540. Give us an option to change the default size when we publish.
- The ability to publish to PDF or other formats — maybe even where self-playing interactions can be exported to iPod/Blackberry video or any video format for that matter.
- The ability to publish partially “skinless” (sans border, title, etc.) — this is a feature in Adobe Captivate that I really like.
I’ve prattled on long enough. Do the monkeys like Engage? Why yes they do — in fact they love it.