Is Articulate Storyline Any Good?

A Review of Articulate Storyline, by Lee Reilly

Storyline is the new and highly anticipated authoring tool from Articulate. It promises to offer its customers something different from Studio ’09, which contained Presenter, Engage and Quizmaker.Articulate Storyline logo

The first, and in my humble opinion, best enhancement to Storyline compared to Studio ’09 is that Storyline is not a plugin for PowerPoint, it is a standalone application. That in itself is worth re-stating – it is a standalone application. While creating a quick demonstration of a Storyline interaction for this review I found that Storyline didn’t crash once. It didn’t slow down, bug out, shut down or corrupt anything – it simply worked (and worked well I might add). For anyone who uses Studio ’09 on a daily basis you will know just how much project time you have wasted on enduring the numerous issues with Studio ’09 stability. These have thankfully not transferred over to Storyline.

If Storyline did nothing other than offer better stability and PowerPoint independence I would rate it highly. It does, however, offer much more than that.

Storyline provides users with:

Ease of Use:
This cannot be understated. Although Storyline is a standalone application, it inherits much of the PowerPoint interface look and feel. Everything is logically located and the more advanced features are intuitively set out and labelled.

Scenes, Layers and Triggers:
Now that Storyline does not rely on PowerPoint it has expanded how slides interact with each other. This is done using the “Story View”, a way of visually determining the order and branching of your content. This is very intuitive to use and set up. The inclusion of layers is a huge improvement too. No longer does content need split between slides and brought in piece by piece over a set. Now content can be assigned to layers, which can in turn be made visible with mouse gestures or timed events. This demonstration is all created in one slide. All interaction is done by showing/hiding layers and assigning simple triggers. Much more efficient!

Screen Recording:
I’m a big fan of Adobe Captivate, it works very well for product simulation (and for creating full e-learning courses). Having screen recording built directly in to Storyline, however, is great because it keeps everything within the same application. It also allows for captioning. Captions are based on mouse gestures during the recording.

States:
One of my biggest bugbears with Studio ’09 was the inability to create simple rollovers. Small things like rollover effects can greatly improve the overall user experience within a course and I am very happy to say that Storyline allows for them. You can now apply hover, down, disabled, selected and drag states on to assets. This allows for the creation of proper button sets and navigation schemes.

Mobile Ready:
You can now publish to HTML5, iOS and traditional flash formats, giving Storyline-created courses a much broader range of end-user platforms.

Overall Articulate Storyline is a big leap forward for authoring tools. It has managed to inject many interesting and useful additions while maintaining ease of use. It is definitely an authoring tool we will be using for upcoming projects.

Effective User Interface Design for Mobile Learning

by Noleen Turner

Sample mobile learning user interface developed by AurionWith the explosion of mobile learning many of us are now in the position of creating brand new mobile e-learning programmes or transforming existing e-learning content to mobile.

*A friendly word of warning to those involved in ‘conversion’ projects – mobile is different to traditional web – and your mobile learning programme won’t work if it’s just a regurgitated experience. Mobile learning is micro-learning, designed for short bursts of activity – your learners are likely to access it while on the job, performing a task, or in between other activities. And learners need to be able to access it via a range of mobile learning technologies which are likely to include smartphones and tablets.

But I digress…and to get back to the original point how do you design an effective user interface for mobile learning? And how do you manage navigation, usability, and aesthetics ensuring that the transition between screens feels natural and that users know where they are at all times during the programme?

LearningSolutions Magazine recently published an article entitled “From e-learning to ipad – how to adjust the user interface”. In the article they consider how the user interface design contributes to
the success of a learning mobile app – one in which the user interface enhances and eases the learning process.

According to LearningSolutions, the layout you build for your mobile learning app must enable users to answer these five questions:

  • Where am I?
  • How did I get here?
  • How can I return to where I once was? 
  • How far have I gone?
  • Where else can I go?

In response to these questions I’ve tried to come up with my own tips for optimising the mobile learning interface:

  How to improve the experience
Where am I?
  • Don’t overload functionality, features or content – just focus on what is necessary to get the job done.
  • Simple functionality will enable you to create a straightforward and easy to follow user interface.
  • Structure information so it can be easily accessed – learners expect to get the information they need with just a few taps.
  • Group similar topics together. The Learning Coach has a useful blog post on visual grouping.
  • Keep the screen uncluttered and use clear screen titles so learners won’t misinterpret visual cues.
  • Emphasise menu items already clicked (change colour or attach bookmarks).
  • Design for a low error rate – remember that selection errors on mobile phones are higher than desktops so surround selection areas with white space so that a learner can easily tap them and invoke the correct action.
How did I get here?
  • Create a visual trail as learners move through the content. For example, highlight a section already clicked on or use a “breadcrumb trail” so learners can track their progress through the programme.
How can I return to where I once was? 
  • Use navigation buttons to allow movement between learning units.
  • Ensure some navigation menus are visible throughout the entire course.
  • Provide Back buttons or Menu buttons to return to a map of choices.
How far have I gone?
  • Include a screen ID such as “Screen 2 of 24” to inform users of how far they have progressed through a lesson and how much there is left to do.
  • Use the word “screen” rather than “page”.
  • Group similar content and create intense learning nuggets rather that one long course – nobody wants to see “Screen 3 of 60”.
Where else can I go?
  • Use clearly labelled navigation buttons to help learners orient themselves.
  • Make sure navigation buttons are easy to find.
  • Stick to simple touch tap or swipe commands to manage navigation between screens (for now). Don’t assume that everyone knows how to use all the interface features of their smartphone / tablet – e.g. pinch open gesture to magnify text.  According to Josh Clark, author of Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps, most people don’t know about the more obscure gestures that work on some mobile phones.

And finally…don’t forget to test your user interface
Once you design an interface, make sure you test it with a sample group of learners, checking how long it takes to complete the learning, how easily they can navigate the learning, how many navigational errors they make etc.

Useful resources for designing mobile learning
iOS Human Interface Guidelines
http://thatcoolguy.github.com/gridless-boilerplate/  guidelines on HTML5 & CSS3 topics
W3C
10 Tips For Designing mLearning And Support Apps
From e-learning to ipad – how to adjust the user interface
Ten things to think about when designing your iPad App