People know me as a tools expert, and most know that I find myself using some tools over and over. Whether that’s because success breeds success and my reputation as an expert in any one tool translates into more offers of work by companies that also use that tool, or simply because certain tools are used a lot more than others in the eLearning world. I’m not sure—it’s probably a bit of both. While I do use several tools on projects each year, there’s no question that I get more requests to work on projects that require Adobe Captivate. Your experience may differ based on your own reputation as an expert in a different tool. This is a question I would love to see addressed some time.

Regardless, it’s true that I’ve been using Captivate for thirteen years now, starting when it was still called RoboDemo. Last week, Adobe released Captivate version 9. With each new version, there have been some very welcome additions, some new features that would first make us scratch our heads only to find eventually that we couldn’t live without them, and some features that perhaps addressed certain audience needs and not others (I’m looking at you, Equation Editor).

What’s new?

Here are my top nine reasons to update to Captivate 9:

  1. Adobe Captivate Draft is a free iPad app that lets you brainstorm and storyboard and import seamlessly into Captivate 
  2. Enhancements to actions are very welcome improvements in both simple actions and advanced actions. 
  3. Responsive learning improvements, for instance, providing five breakpoints rather than just three allowing us to cover both landscape and portrait modes for tablets and smart phones. 
  4. Multi-state objects finally! Yes, and a beautiful feature it is! 
  5. Quiz and Question enhancements that let you now set up quiz questions as knowledge check or practice questions that the LMS won’t track and that won’t count toward or against the learner’s quiz score. You can also now set up Next and Back buttons that appear only in Review mode without the need for hiding or showing them though actions. 
  6. Scaled-Vector Graphic (SVG) support allows you to now natively use in Captivate any SVG files you have or create in a product like Adobe Illustrator—and they will scale beautifully. 
  7. Direct testing in SCORM Cloud is now a one-button click rather than publish, then upload, then test. Nice! I use the SCORM Cloud all the time to test my files for SCORM compliance.  
  8. Motion paths and other effects are much more flexible and transparent now to use. I think you’ll love them.  
  9. Free access to more than 25,000 eLearning assets since Adobe teamed up with the eLearning Brothers to give you direct access to a ton of assets you can download and use freely. 

There are plenty of other improvements I like that I’ll just list here:

  • You’ll be able to publish to Adobe’s new Adobe Captivate Prime LMS.  
  • If you’re using Captivate on a Mac, you can create software simulations from iPads and iPhones by recording your iOS device screen as a full resolution HD video while you perform tasks on the iOS device itself—this requires connecting the iOS device to your Mac with a Lightning cable.
  • There are three new smart learning interactions, for a total of 32 now. 
  • The Characters dialog is much improved, much easier to use. 
  • Geolocation has been enhanced further, allowing scripts to launch automatically when the learner changes location, for instance, or letting you emulate a location to test the results. 
  • You can now set the Preview Next option to just one slide in the preferences, whereas before the minimum was two. This lets you see a slide as if it had been published, with full interactivity, video, and so on. Too often, those new to Captivate choose the Play This Slide option thinking it will show them all media and interactivity, but that is meant only for timing objects on the screen, with or without audio. This is a good change. 

A little more detail on the top nine features (and what I really think of them)

A. Adobe Captivate Draft

This is a brand new app for iPads that lets you storyboard ideas, dropping in images, text, audio, and placeholders for web links and videos, and much more. You download Adobe Captivate Draft from the Apple app store. It’s free, it’s a really fun app, and it’s easy to use. The best part is that you can upload the storyboard you create to your Adobe account whenever you’re connected to the Internet and then you can bring it into Captivate as a project using the new option you see in Figure 1 below. It gets converted to Captivate slides quickly and you can then build from there. It’s very cool, and lets me get a real head start on projects.

Figure 1: Open Captivate Draft Project

What I think—

While I’ve only played with Captivate Draft thus far and haven’t used it on any real client projects, I’m intrigued by the possibilities. This tool may become a standard part of client projects for me. Time will tell, but I’ve got a good feeling about this.

B. Responsive learning improvements

Responsive learning refers to eLearning you create that works equally well on desktops (or laptops), tablets, and smart phones. While Captivate 8 was one of the first eLearning development tools to allow for responsive learning, today there are a handful that offer this feature. However, I’ve yet to see any other tool offer as much customization in all three views as Captivate has. It does require more work to make everything look perfect, but the other tools force you more into a templated approach (at least, those I’ve seen thus far). I prefer that my eLearning designs not be limited by page types and such, but that I develop my own, specific to the learning and the audience. Captivate lets me do that.

More views

In version 8, there were three breakpoints offered, the aforementioned Desktop, Tablet, and Mobile (aka smart phones). Version 9 offers two more to address some highly requested needs (Figure 2): Tablet Portrait and Mobile Landscape (shown as Custom Mobile in the Figure). In version 8, tablets were assumed to be landscape and smart phones were assumed to be portrait, so if you turned either one 90 degrees, you would see your learning at less than full screen. Version 9 changes that so now you can take full advantage of every possibility. You can delete any breakpoints you don’t want in Captivate 9.

Figure 2: There are now five breakpoints rather than three, covering each orientation

More responsive features

  1. As Adobe released Captivate 8 and its subsequent dot releases, responsive design projects became more feature-rich with each new release, and now, in Captivate 9, you can finally use any motion path and most every other effect you like, just as you can in non-responsive projects. See Figure 3.

    Figure 3: Captivate 8 allowed only one type of motion path in responsive design, but Captivate 9 allows for every type

  2. A new preference has been added in the Publish Settings if you would rather learners stick with portrait orientation; you can dictate what message should appear if they try to turn to landscape mode. See Figure 4.

    Figure 4: A new preference for responsive design projects

  3. Convenient new features also include the ability to center objects horizontally and/or vertically across all views and to apply any position changes you make to other items of the same style or type. These are features that, prior to Captivate 9, were available only in non-responsive projects. See Figure 5.

    Figure 5: New positioning options in responsive design projects

What I think—

Some folks I’ve met have created ten or more projects in the last year using responsive design. Others have done none. I’m in the middle: some of my clients wanted mobile—hence responsive design—and others have not. I really like these added new features because they give me more power (more control over what the learner will see at each breakpoint) while at the same time making life easier (alignment options, fewer limits on effects). Captivate will continue to be the most powerful eLearning development tool for responsive, but it does mean that more planning in the design stage should take place. I’d rather have the ability to have the tool accommodate my instructional design than have my instructional design fit into what a tool will allow—and Captivate 9 does this.

C. Enhancements to actions

As a long-time programmer and coder, I welcome three new features in Captivate’s actions.

  1. Up until now, for simple actions such as attaching a Hide or Show action to a button, when the learner would click the button it would dutifully hide or show the object you wanted hidden or shown, but then the timeline would continue moving ahead. If we didn’t want that to happen, if we wished to keep the timeline paused to give the learner time to choose other options, we would be forced to take that simple Hide or Show (or any other) action and place it all by itself in an advanced action. That felt rather odd, but it worked because an advanced action by default does not move the timeline (you can make it move by adding a Continue action in the advanced action).

    However, now every simple command that normally would have moved the timeline has a nifty way to turn off that option. See Figure 6.

    Figure 6: Want to keep the project paused? Turn off the Continue Playing option!

  2. The second new feature is a new set of simple actions for changing objects’ states (which I’ll discuss in a bit). The first of these, Change State of, is also available as an action when you create advanced actions.

    Figure 7: New object state actions 

  3. The third new feature that I’ve wanted for oh-so-very-long is the ability to pause an advanced action midstream. This offers up a whole ton of possibilities for great visual effects, for example. I believe the main reason for this is to allow more pleasing sequences of object state changes, but this new action is useful in many other ways too. You can use a literal value, such as the 1.24 seconds you see in Figure 8, or you can even use a variable, which makes me smile.

    Figure 8: Delay Next Actions 

What I think—

If you know me well, you know that I love creating powerful actions that let me give my clients what they want. For instance, this year, a client wanted me to create a very specialized multiple-choice question with multiple responses, multiple types of feedbacks, the coloring of answers, etc. Captivate’s quiz questions didn’t have some of those features so I had to create my own (or disappoint my client). Using Advanced Actions and variables, I managed to create exactly what was requested. When all was said and done, I changed my Advanced Actions to Shared Actions and was able to repeat using them over and over more easily and quickly. This is what I mean when I say I like a tool with power. The new features are certainly welcome (I’ve long since requested both) but I’m really hoping that Adobe will see fit to make the Advanced Action editor much more script-friendly for those of us who work much faster in that mode. Creating Advanced Actions has always felt just a tad slow for my taste, but I think others may prefer the current method, so I suggest Adobe allow for both options.

D. Multi-State Objects

Yes, Captivate finally allows objects to have multiple states! This makes it a lot quicker and easier when you want to present a learner with an object that is changing either on a timed basis or when the learner performs an action. For instance, you can have an on-screen character who changes facial expression depending on actions the learner takes. See Figure 9.

Figure 9: Create Object States 

You can create as many states as you like. For instance, I created the ones you see in Figure 9 above. Subsequently, I can use the actions I mentioned earlier, the most useful of which is Change State of. See Figure 10, where you see that the states I created are listed by name, so if I want the character to look frustrated by a choice the learner made, I just switch the state to Frustrated on that choice.

Figure 10: Change State of 

What I think—

Multi-state objects allow for a lot more flexibility and at the same time they make showing and hiding elements much easier. I think I’m going to use the heck out of this feature.

E. Quiz and question enhancements

  1. You’ll see a new slide type now when you drop down the Slides option, called Knowledge Check. See Figure 11.

    Figure 11: Knowledge Check Slide option

    Knowledge Check slides work exactly as Question slides except there is no scoring involved and of course no reporting to an LMS on these questions. This lets you set up practice questions for the learner without worrying about messing up the quiz scores.

  2. A new set of Next and Back buttons are now automatically made available on Quiz questions that the learner will see only in Review mode. It has been very confusing for some learners when the developer would have both a Next and Submit button on a quiz slide. The learner would click Next thinking his or her answer was being registered when in reality it would only register on clicking the Submit button. See Figure 12. We’ve managed to make this work in the past, but only with advanced actions and variables. This simplifies the matter.

    Figure 12: Quiz Question Review Next and Back

What I think—

These are welcome new features, especially the Knowledge Check slides. In the future, I’d love to see more flexibility in how questions are formatted and have more options available.

F. Scaled-Vector Graphic Support

Scaled-Vector Graphics (also known as Scalable Vector Graphics or SVG) are those images that are not stored pixel by pixel, but as mathematical formulae. Yes, you build them in a tool like Adobe Illustrator, and you don’t need to know any math, but the files created are such that the images will look crystal clear at any resolution. That choice has now been added to the Media menu. See Figure 13.

Figure 13: The new SVG option 

What I think—

What’s there not to like about this option? We can finally have images that are truly scalable. Now to start learning Adobe Illustrator!

G. Direct testing in SCORM Cloud

The SCORM Cloud ( has become an indispensable tool for testing my lessons to ensure they are SCORM-compliant before testing them in the client’s LMS.  It’s great because you can upload up to 10 zipped SCORM-ready lessons of up to 100 MB each free of charge. You can delete lessons you’ve uploaded previously, so as long as you don’t have more than 10 at a time, it doesn’t cost you anything.

The normal process I go through is to:

  1. publish with SCORM settings,
  2. go find the resulting zip file,
  3. open in my browser,
  4. choose the Import Course option,
  5. launch the course and test it out, and
  6. delete the course afterward.

Now I just choose the option you see in Figure 14 under Preview. Captivate uploads and launches the file automatically. As I walk through the lesson, the SCORM Cloud is generating a log that I can download to let me see exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. Regardless of whether I want that level of detail, when done, I can choose to relaunch the course again or review the course results in a report that’s easy to read. Closing the preview automatically deletes the lesson off the SCORM Cloud.

Figure 14: The new Preview in SCORM Cloud option 

What I think—

Simply put, I love this new option. It will save me a lot of time.

H. Motion paths and other effects

I’ve used motion paths for a variety of learning applications since they were first introduced in version 5. For instance, they’ve been useful in having a learner direct a fire investigator to different parts of a hospital floorplan and then have the character move down the hallways, correctly turning right or left where necessary. I’ve mentioned above that now motion paths can be used in responsive design projects, and that’s great, but the whole approach to adding effects has been greatly improved in Captivate 9.

  1. First, the dialog is much faster and more pleasant now. We don’t have to preview each time we want to see what an effect might do. Nope, as soon as we roll over an effect in the dialog, the affected object will exhibit the effect. Nice!

    Figure 15: The New Effects dialog 

  2. Rather than having to juggle two different timelines, the main timeline and a separate effects timeline, we can now see effects directly on the main timeline, making it easier to make adjustments. See Figure 16.

    Figure 16: Effects are now on the main timeline 

  1. Also, you can see a convenient list of the effects that you’ve applied to an object in the Effects dialog. You can see in Figure 17 that the list reflects what is on the timeline.

    Figure 17: The list of applied effects on an object 

  2. Now motion paths can truly be curved and circular, as you see in Figure 18. We no longer have to fake a curved path by having lots of short segment paths strung together in a curved fashion! You can make any path you wish now.

    Figure 18. Curved paths

What I think—

There’s no question this gives me lots of new options and makes it easier for me to apply effects. I like this very much.

I. Free access to more than 25,000 eLearning assets

By now, almost everyone has heard of the eLearning Brothers. They provide libraries of thousands of templates, games, character photos, and more that you can use in a variety of ways and in a variety of tools. Now Adobe has teamed up with the eLearning Brothers to give us free access to over 25,000 assets. Again, free access. It’s a wonderful thing. Clicking the new Assets toolbar button  opens a window with all of those lovely assets ready for you to download. See Figure 18.  Once you download characters for instance, you’ll find them in the normal Characters dialog.

Figure 19: The opening assets screen

What I think—

I can’t think of any reason to hate this idea. The only concern I may have is if everyone starts using the same assets, everyone’s eLearning will start to look the same, but with all these assets available, I don’t think I’m too worried.

Final thoughts

Every authoring tool is jockeying for market position. Adobe Captivate continues to have the biggest market share (the low subscription price has certainly not hurt) but Adobe has not rested on its laurels. Yes, each tool vendor looks at what its competitors are doing and tries to leapfrog the feature sets of the tools of those competitors, and Adobe is no exception. You can’t ignore your competition.

More importantly, though, is listening to what your customers want, and Adobe does focus on that quite a bit, sending out its people to talk to customers on a regular basis.

No matter what Adobe adds to a new version, there will always be some of us who want more or who might have chosen a different feature to add than one that was. The important question to ask is, “Are the added features worth the upgrade?” In this case, the answer is definitely Yes. Is there room for improvement? You bet there is! Is that true of any software? Of course! I’m happy to start using Captivate 9 with its new features and possibilities for better instructional design and I look forward to seeing what Adobe does next.