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Dated: Nov. 10, 2009
by Al Lemieux
Flash is a vector-based animation and interactivity program that allows you to create everything from simple animations to complex interactive applications. With its built-in programming language ActionScript Flash is fully scriptable and can communicate with several backend database languages. Since the first Flash product appeared (from Macromedia), the e-Learning community has worked with Flash developers and engineers to make Flash content more and more accessible in e-Learning environments.
With its feature-rich list of capabilities, built-in components, and e-Learning output templates, Flash makes a lot of sense for maximizing course content. In this article, well highlight some of the important features of Flash and how they can make your courses shine.
1. Animations for Step-by-Step Procedures
In 10 Tips for Using Graphics in e-Learning, we saw the importance of using graphics in courses, to strengthen how well they meet learning objectives. We talked about different delivery methods for conveying subject matter, and one of those methods was animation. Flash uses timeline-based animation, which makes it quite easy to build animated movies. Graphical elements may be created directly in Flash, but a majority of developers use other tools that they are more comfortable with especially Adobe Creative Suite. With Flash CS3, you can now import native Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop files. You can even convert layered files from these programs into Movie Clips and animate the individual layers using keyframes in the timeline.
In e-Learning materials, step-by-step procedures can be particularly tricky. Think of the last piece of furniture that you had to put together. How useful were its instructions? One of the things IKEA does well is its non-text instructions for assembling its furniture. These instructions are pure imagery. Take that concept a step further, and you have animation. An animated step-by-step instruction is much more powerful than static imagery. During an animation, you can highlight specific areas, use animated arrows, and express a learning objective much more naturally and effectively.
When the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) asked SyberWorks to produce a series of courses for its Bridge-playing members, we used Flash to create animated card-playing sequences, and to illustrate specific turns in games. The card images were prepared in Adobe Illustrator, imported into Flash, and converted into Movie Clips. Using scripts provided by ACBL, we created animations for each play, to illustrate the rules that it represents. Other graphical and text elements were added in Flash to point out parts of the animation. These courses are now delivered to hundreds of Bridge players across the country.
2. Easy Audio Integration
Adding audio to an HTML-only course presents difficulties for course developers. First, multiple audio formats are available on the web today: WAV, AIF, MP3, M4a, etc. Even worse is the vast array of audio-player applications and their file-type associations, both for Mac and Windows platforms. Having users download specific players is a distraction from the course material, and a potential source of additional problems.
Flash, however, supports several audio formats and plays them all using the Flash Player, which has a 98% market penetration. The Flash Player is available in all major browsers and platforms, and is even becoming available in more Internet appliances. You can easily import almost any audio file, add it to the Flash timeline, publish the Flash movie, deliver the course, and be fairly certain that users will be able to hear the audio without having to download an extra player.
Another problem with audio is that, if a sound file is not set up to stream, there is a chance that some of the sound may drop out. Flash has built-in streaming capabilities, so you can be assured that your audio content will be delivered to users without drop-outs and gaps.
At SyberWorks, we use Flash for in-course audio content. Audio is recorded in our audio lab and saved in a common format. The file is then imported into Flash. ActionScript is used in conjunction with on-screen buttons, to allow users to control audio playback. This interactive audio file can then be attached to any course, using the SyberWorks Web Author application.
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