These days, you can hardly be an instructional designer without being prepared to show that you can use either Captivate or Storyline.  So, I decided to dive into learning the basics of both of these programs to see what all of the fuss is about.

Captivate, by Adobe, is an e-Learning authoring program that is very similar in function and appearance to the old lecture standard – PowerPoint – although it offers many features and improvements that take away the frustration of turning lectures slides into online instructional materials.  With improved support for narration, multi-media embedding, and flow control, Captivate takes creating materials for online or hybrid courses to a new level.


  • If you have been using PowerPoint in the classroom (or in online education) for years, you can import your old slides into Captivate to get a head start.  Tech support at Adobe says that support for converting PowerPoint animations during the import has improved, but you might download a demo version and check if your slideshows will convert smoothly.  On the other hand, if you’ve been using those animations to “create interest” – you probably should think about revising them substantially anyways.
  • With some attention to settings early on, you can create a slide show that will work on multiple devices: desktops, iPad/tablets, and smart phones, automatically adapting to fit the size of display.  As students increasingly shift their studying to the most convenient device in reach, the ease of creating a lecture once for multiple devices is very attractive.
  • Unlike PowerPoint, Captivate was designed to create e-Learning lessons and has far superior support for recording voice overs for slides and embedding multi-media – even allowing a video to play over multiple slides and adding closed captioning.
  • The ability to create a lecture that responds to student answers opens up the possibility for formative quizzes, student self-check of understanding, and branching within a presentation to allow students to view material that applies to them while skipping the rest … or get a review of material that they did not grasp on the first pass.
  • With the branching and assessment features, you can create very responsive interactive lessons, but you will need to spend time flowcharting your presentation or lesson and may want to work with someone who understands computer programming.


  • As a big proponent of active online learning, I have to caution instructional designers considering the adoption of Captivate.  While this program offers some handy features, such as quizzing and branching, it is essentially cut from the same cloth as the father and granddaddy of lecture aids: PowerPoint and the overhead project, respectively.  Of necessity, it boils down ideas to the few words that will fit on a screen, possibly with images, animation, and short video to augment the point, presented to the learner as part of direct instruction.  The theory of learning as consumption presented in a (mostly) linear fashion is not challenged by the newish tool.  And as students have been telling us for nearly twenty years, this is not an engaging way to learn – either in the classroom or online.  Adding pretty, moving pictures doesn’t really help.  Certainly, use this as a way to present content, but also consider using other techniques to engage students in activities that address higher order thinking skills as part of their learning.


  • With Captivate, you can publish your lesson or presentation in HTML5, for those viewers (most people) who do not have Captivate on their computers.  In general, most people should have modern browsers that can handle the new web standard, but I’m often surprised at the number of students (and faculty members) who are milking along old, out of date software.
  • Responsive design is a great feature, but you still need to pay attention to details of positioning as you build your lesson, slide by slide.  You may need to prioritize what will appear on a mobile device screen since no magic allow you to show a great deal of text and images on a small display.  Also, you cannot import a PowerPoint presentation into a responsive (i.e. adjustable size) presentation.  To take advantage of this feature, you’ll need to start from scratch.


For most uses, I suspect faculty members will not use the advanced features of Captivate and should stick to the old standard, PowerPoint.  Nearly every computer on any college campus has PowerPoint … or the free viewer …. installed.
But for direct instruction materials that can scale to a selection of display sizes AND do some quick quizzing, Captivate may be the solution you are seeking, especially for content-heavy courses aimed at adult, professional development or end-user education.