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Welcome to Articulate 360 – Our first impressions

The authoring tool market continues to be an arms race between the big industry guns.

Articulate has been keeping their powder dry for a number of years in the responsive design space. This means they have lost ground to Captivate, Lectora and other responsive tools in the ability to create responsive content, but that has now changed – enter the eagerly anticipated Articulate 360 suite.

In this post, I dig a bit deeper into what’s changed and what Articulate 360 means for you as a developer.

Be ready to subscribe to the suite

First of all, your investment is now subscription-based, compared to that one off payment previously. This equates to $999/user/year (£800). Articulate 360 for teams goes a step further, so for $1,299/user/year (£1040) you can create an account and move licences between teams.

This recurring cost is very significant – particularly for freelancers who may think again about their chosen authoring tool. You do get access to a full suite of Articulate products for this outlay – but what if I don’t need a full suite? Unfortunately, it’s all or nothing from now on.

Slide-based standalone authoring is hanging on

The anticipation for Articulate 360 was that Storyline would be upgraded to become the new responsive authoring tool. But this is not the case. Storyline 360 includes a host of new features but it remains as a slide-based standalone authoring tool.

A new product called Rise offers responsive authoring instead – more on this later.

Articulate has flown the flag for slide-based authoring for a number of years, against the ground swell move towards responsive content. Certainly, we are advocates of what Storyline can achieve out of the box in terms of creating rich interactive/animated content but is Storyline 360 a transition to keep us sweet? Will Storyline 360 eventually be shelved in favour of a purely responsive tool? These concerns aside, the enhancements we see in Storyline 360 include the following:

    • Responsive player – replaces the standard player on tablets and smartphones
    • Responsive preview toolbar – see how your content will look on different devices
    • HTML5 gesture support – swiping, dragging and pinch-to-zoom are supported on tablets and smartphones
    • Publish to Articulate Review – automatically publish to Review, the new cloud-based review platform
    • HTML5 support for accessibility – HTML5 output now includes Section 508 accessibility, including screen reader support and full keyboard navigation
    • Publish to HTML5 first/only – paving the way for the removal of Flash from browsers
    • Dial interactions – let learners spin objects around on a slide
    • Orient objects to motion paths – create richer animations
    • Trigger actions for when objects intersect and enter/leave a slide – introduces more game design potential

Articulate Review may save your sanity

Mention “review cycles” to a seasoned e-learning developer and their brow will bead with sweat. Course review is the bane of developers – particularly where multiple stakeholders with differing opinions are involved. Courses must be reviewed online and comments accumulated in a spreadsheet that is passed around like a hot potato. Referencing comments back to the original slides of content is a constant confusion.

Articulate Review is a product in the new suite that is of real interest to development houses like ourselves – or anyone who has a significant throughput of modules with multiple SMEs, reviewers and stakeholders.

Review allows you to collaborate with all stakeholders in one place through threaded discussions. Feedback is consolidated on a slide-by-slide basis and new versions of modules can be uploaded to overwrite originals or create new versions.

A really neat feature is that a screenshot is captured with every comment – so even if a slide changes you can see the exact context of the original comment. Nice. The team have really thought hard the headaches of e-learning development.

Review will accept Storyline 360, Rise, Studio 360, Peek and Preso published content and courses are published to Review directly from Storyline 360 so goodbye to sending huge zip files around the houses as well.

All Rise for the latest responsive authoring tool

It’s taken a few years, but Rise is Articulate’s long awaited product to create fully responsive learning content in the cloud. For sure, it’s a slick looking and intuitive product but there are many mature products out there already that do more and for less of an investment. So this alone doesn’t justify your licence fee, but maybe this is just the start.

On a positive note, Rise is there in the suite if you don’t need the level of design that Storyline 360 offers and you’re wanting to quickly create mobile learning resources.

A range of templates and quizzes are available and you can preview how the content will look on different devices. All the usual media types can be inserted, including images, videos, audio, buttons, etc. What we don’t see yet (that we do have with other responsive tools) is an API to create custom templates – so it does seem that you are locked into what templates are available.

Courses can be exported to SCORM, AICC, TinCan and native web formats, or published to Review.

Take your pick of Peek, Replay 360 and Preso

In the 360 suite you also have access to Peek, Preso and Replay 360 which are all used for creating screencast videos.

Peek is used to record simple screencasts. Think of Peek as a light version of Replay 360 – Peek is much lighter and easier to operate. It offers similar recording features found in SnagIt. Videos can be embedded in any of the 360 authoring tools.

Replay 360 (previously Replay) is a video & screencast recording and editing application. Videos are exported in MP4 format and be can embedded within any of the 360 applications, or be run as a standalone video.

A new generic content libraryPreso is used to create informal training videos for delivery to iPad. You can narrate and annotate slides with simple swipes, taps, and gestures. You can also walk learners through slide content with audio. Add to this the ability to guide them visually with pans and zooms, pen or pointer highlights, and drawings.

A new generic content library

I guess it depends on where you work, but we would never use a generic content library, hence this addition to the 360 suite is of little value to us. However, an internal team may find this library invaluable. But the worry is that the options are quickly exhausted and the same content ends up appearing again and again, resulting in a Groundhog Day mentality in the audience.

The library includes stock imagery, illustrations, graphs and templates. You can preview what is available, or download assets through Storyline 360 or Studio 360. The library is useful for inspiration if nothing else, and search filters are available to help you find what you are looking for.

From Noob to Super-level on Articulate Live

Articulate has always been known for their first rate online support and user communities. Articulate 360 builds on this with Articulate Live, where industry experts deliver weekly webinars on all things authoring. This is certainly good to see but I suspect novices will gain most from this.From Noob to Super-level on Articulate Live

Remember Articulate Studio?

I don’t quite understand why Studio (the addon to PowerPoint that includes Presenter, Quizmaker and Engage) has been bundled with Articulate 360 rather than shelved. My cynical side asks whether this is to make us feel like we are getting more for our money? The team has clearly put a lot of effort adding new functionality so there is clearly a contingent out there that still authors in PowerPoint, rather than Storyline. Studio 360 now includes a responsive player so it has certainly been brought bang up to date. But we won’t be using it.

In summary

Articulate has been playing its cards close to its chest, against an industry that’s become obsessed with all things responsive. The 360 suite is not what was expected but it fits in with other cloud-based subscription models. The cost seems to be a confident statement that the offer is the best on the market.

Most significantly, Articulate have maintained their belief in a need for both slide-based and responsive authoring – in two strong products: Storyline 360 and Rise. You can now decide whether your audience needs a polished custom experience or a quickfire mobile resource.

The bigger question is whether to upgrade or not?

Our answer would be to leave it a couple of months. Early releases are often buggy and word has it that the 360 suite has some issues to iron out, for example Storyline 2 import issues. Also, Storyline 360 is a 32-bit application which means it’s limited to 4GB of RAM – larger files may cause issues. Of course, once you upgrade your team members and customers will have to do the same (if you share files with them). If Storyline 2 is working for you stick with it and if you need responsive content, use one of the cheap (or even open source) options.

Saying all that, Articulate Review in itself may be worth checking out if stakeholder review cycles are giving you painful late nights.

Happy authoring.

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