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Adobe's New eLearning Suite

Online audio and video are vital assets for enhancing and driving teaching in education and elearning. But digital media alone does not a online course make. Lessons come together when there is interactivity—quizzes, exercises, and branching—to go along with the lecture or presentation. The problem for many teachers and instructional designers is figuring out how to create a rich multimedia courses online without having to become application developers.

With the release of its new eLearning Suite, Adobe is attempting an integrated approach to the development of online learning and multimedia similar to the company’s Creative Suite family of applications for web design and media production. Adobe appears to be taking aim at Microsoft Expression Studio and other rich media presentation tools like Telestream ScreenFlow, as well as conferencing and collaboration platforms such as WebEx and LiveMeeting. Bringing together venerable tools like Flash, Captivate, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and Connect, the eLearning Suite is intended to make it easier for educators to develop online learning exercises and applications without having to dig deeply into programming ActionScript, and to publish course modules to the desktop, mobile devices, browsers and even live class online classes.

Authoring is where courses begin, and the primary tool for that is the new Captivate 4, which debuts with the eLearning Suite. Many educators and learning professionals are probably accustomed to using Captivate for capturing screencasts and producing more complex demos that include branching and quizzes, which then publish to a Flash SWF file. Version 4 builds on this functionality by adding new project and design templates, better PowerPoint workflows and text-to-speech.

Captivate 4 allows the creation of interactive demos that require the student to follow along, clicking and entering correct data for each step. Audio and video assets can be added and Photoshop PSD files are imported with layers preserved, allowing them to be manipulated and animated. For assessment the teacher can add graded quizzes. At completion of the course the student may be awarded a customized certificate ready for printing.

Probably the most interesting feature for instructional designers working with a teacher or subject expert is SWF commenting. This allows a designer to put together a course module and give it to the teacher for review. The teacher then can send back comments without having to run Captivate. Instead, the teacher only needs to run an Adobe AIR application that provides this functionality.

To record less complex presentations, the suite includes Presenter 7 for creating Flash presentations from PowerPoint. The resulting Flash presentation can include audio, video, animations, quizzes and surveys.

For those more accustomed to creating Flash applications the old-fashioned way, the suite includes an enhanced version of Flash CS4. It’s tightly integrated so that Captivate 4 projects can be exported directly into Flash. Dreamweaver CS4 is also there to help bring these presentations into websites and html-based courses using its CourseBuilder extension.

The creation and editing of multimedia elements in courses is with a set of applications that should be familiar to most online video producers: Photoshop CS4 for image manipulation and Soundbooth CS4 for audio recording and editing. Flash is where video comes into the picture, using Adobe Media Converter to prepare and transcode video files for use in the final SWF.

Publishing is where the course goes live, and the eLearning Suite offers four different ways to get modules and courses to students and learners. Device Central is used to publish courses to mobile devices. The application includes emulators in order to see how your content looks on hundreds of device models.

To publish lessons for use on the desktop, with or without internet connectivity, the Suite provides Acrobat 9 Pro. AIR is used to publish courses to be run outside the browser and without Adobe Reader. Connect Pro 7 is where courses created with the eLearning Suite meet the online classroom. Teachers of a live online class session in Connect can give students quizzes, interactive simulations and exercises to complete at their own pace, similar to how individual or group work might be conducted in a brick-and-mortar classroom.

Many schools, colleges, and companies that already have large investments in online education use a Learning Management System to administer online course material. The eLearning Suite accommodates those users with the SCORM Packager, which aggregates elearning modules created in Captivate, Flash or Presenter for use in SCORM-compliant learning management systems (LMS) like SumTotal, Plateau, and Moodle.

The eLearning Suite provides a potentially valuable integrated toolset for education professionals who are beginners in authoring interactive multimedia course content or are old hands at Flash. There’s additional value for those who want or need to publish content as Flash SWF files or Adobe PDFs, get courses onto mobile devices or into live classes in Connect Pro.

The full suite is priced at $1,799, with an educational price of $599. Captivate 4 is available alone for $799, or at an educator’s discount of $249. Various upgrade pricing is available for users of previous versions of Captivate, Photoshop, Flash, or Creative Suite 2 and 3.

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