Articulate Storyline First Impressions

Story View in Articulate Storyline (click to enlarge)

Without warning Articulate launched Storyline yesterday (2 May 2012). I’ve been on the beta programme, and there was no indication that we were so close to an actual launch, but now we can all have a play with the new software.

Overall

Storyline is a big step up from Studio. It’s now a standalone product – no more messing about with PowerPoint plug-ins but also no more messing about with PowerPoint. However, Articulate have replicated the key functionality of PowerPoint within the tool so any PowerPoint users will be able to get up to speed pretty quickly. Probably my favourite feature in Storyline is the ‘story view’. It shows all the slides in your project in the order in which they will be viewed (indicated by a path identified by arrows). The power of this view is evident when you start using branching (which Storyline handles particularly well). Unlike branching in PowerPoint you can easily see the different branched routes and manage them effectively. This overall ‘storyboard’ view is really helpful when developing e-learning that unlike a presentation is usually not completely linear. It some respects it seems similar to Authorware – the original tool developed by Macromedia all those years back (don’t tell Michael Allen).

Interactions using Layers, Triggers, States and Variables

Powerful interactions can be created on each slide using a combination of layers, triggers, states and variables. I saw one example from the beta testing where there were literally hundreds of layers each with its own set of triggers all on one slide! Storyline also enables the use of variables so that some simple data can be entered and stored for use later (e.g. the learner’s name).

If you have ever done any programming you will be familiar with some of these terms and one of the biggest achievements of the new Storyline product is its ability to put programming power in the hands of non-programmers. However, even with the intuitive interface it’s still going to take some effort in order to get the reward. Powerful it may be but all that interaction DESIGN is going to make Storyline a much less ‘rapid’ tool than Studio.

Built-in Clip Art

Storyline is designed with scenarios in mind and so to make it easy to build people interactions there is a built-in character library with both photographic images and Articulate style illustrations (which I personally don’t love very much). In addition to the bundled art you will also be able to buy additional packages or create your own in-house. The first ‘bolt-on’ character pack is $599 – according to Articulate’s web site it’s a bargain because if you were to purchase the characters separately it would cost you $2,392)!

Built-in Screen Recorder

Storyline has its own built-in screen recorder which looks just like the Screenr online tool but there is a lot more functionality under the bonnet (hood for you US folks). You can publish the capture in either view mode, try mode or test mode (just like in Captivate).  This gives you much more power when using screen walkthroughs as a training tool. Storyline also automatically adds callouts and does its best to annotate them automatically. You can also add your own callouts manually and adjust the zoom level.

Integrated Quizzes

Quizmaker functionality is now fully integrated into Storyline which makes it much easier to integrate question and answer interactions. There is also built in support for graphical drag and drop type questions and interactions. Engage is not integrated – I guess because you can build Engage type interactions using the slide layer and triggers.

HTML5 and m-Learning

Storyline defaults to publishing to Flash but you also have the option to include HTML5 output (primarily so that it will play on the iPad). On the iPad you also have the option of using the Articulate Player App. This allows you to download a Storyline course and view it offline – it acts like a sort of iBooks for e-learning content. Desktop and laptop PCs and most Android tablets will play Storyline in good old fashioned Flash (at least for now).

Storyline output won’t really work well on smartphones because of the small screen size but there doesn’t seem to be any technical reason why you can’t give it a go.

Downsides

Storyline is undoubtedly a more complex product and will involve a steeper learning curve. If you are already an Articulate power user it will be great to make that step up but if you are completely new to e-learning authoring then Storyline will feel a little scary. True you can ignore some of the complexities and just use it like Studio but if that’s the case you may as well stick to Studio (the 2012 version of course which coincidentally gets a preview on the same day that Storyline launched).

There is still only one player skin in Storyline. It’s a lot cleaner than the old Articulate player but it’s still pretty limited, and because there is only one, EVERY Storyline project is going to look the same! Of course because there is so much more power in developing in-slide navigation lots of authors are going to create their own navigation – and lots of the cool beta examples have done this. However this adds a lot of extra effort and is much trickier than relying on a standard player. My guess is that third party player skins will become available pretty soon.

Storyline is a landmark product and it really does massively extend the potential of an instructional designer who is up to speed with interaction design (and hopefully graphic design too). However I would question its label as a ‘rapid’ tool. Some of the things I have been playing with in Storyline could have been done much faster by a competent Flash developer and I feel that we have to recognise that sometimes two heads are better than one when it comes to creating professional and engaging e-learning content. Nevertheless the e-Learning Heroes community is likely to be buzzing with activity as new users get to grips with layers, triggers, states, markers and variables. At some point someone may even think – “I now recognise how hard it is to get all this interactive stuff working properly!”.

Storyline Pricing

Happily you get all that power for precisely the same price as Studio – at the time of writing Storyline is £860 ($1,398). That’s not cheap but if you are a serious e-learning developer it has to represent excellent value for money.

Download the FREE trial of Articulate Storyline

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  • http://twitter.com/danroddy Dan Roddy

    Nice summary John. I’ve not had the pleasure of using it just yet, but will probably have a play over the next few weeks just so I can hold my own in geeky ID conversations in pubs around Bristol…

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