Actors is one of these nice little new features of Captivate 6.  It is a collection of human characters in various poses and gestures that can be easily added to your eLearning content. The goal is to add a human and humoristic touch to our courses in order to better engage with the students.  Let's see how it works, and how we can use it to tell a better story to our students

Starting and ending a course

As teachers, we all know that the beginning and the ending of a course are both critical.  The beginning of a course is where we try to attract the attention of the learners.  If we fail this part, there is a risk that our students will start their course with a negative feeling that, in turn can impair their learning.  In a traditional classroom, a good teacher is able to feel its audience and to adjust its tone, energy, language and gestures in order to stay in sync with the student's mood of the day.  Obviously, such adjustment is much more difficult in eLearning.  That's why, I think that the way we begin a eLearning course is of the upmost importance.

Ending a course is important as well.  Taking a few minutes at the end of a lecture to wrap up the whole class and give a strong conclusion to the students helps them retrieve the main message of a course and better structure their learning.

How can Captivate 6 help?

In this post, I want to explore how the new Characters feature of Captivate 6 can help us begin and finish our courses efficiently.  To find out how effective is the use of these new characters, I've made a small experiment.  I've added some Captivate 6 images from the collection of Actors at the beginning and the end of a sample application developed in Captivate 5.5.  The following is the beginning at the end of the original course developed in Captivate 5.5.

The beginning and the ending of a course - the Captivate 5.5 version

The beginning and the ending of a course - the Captivate 5.5 version
The beginning and the ending of a course - the Captivate 5.5 version

Now that you've seen the Captivate 5.5 version, let's take a look at the Captivate 6 version.  It is the very same project and the very same sequence of slides.  The only difference is that I've added Smart Shapes and Characters in an attempt to add this human and humoristic touch that could help me start and end my course more efficiently

The Captivate 6 version of the same sequence. Actors and Smart shape have been added to the file

The beginning and the ending of a course - the Captivate 6 version
The beginning and the ending of a course - the Captivate 6 version

I don't know about you, but I find the difference between the 2 files rather interesting.  I'm not sure which one will be the most efficient with students, and I'm not sure at all that I've used the feature in the most efficient manner. But I think we whould give a chance to Actors in our courses.

And you.... What do You think?

Yesterday night, I showed these 2 files to my girlfriend asking her what was her thoughts about the 2 files showcased in this post.  I was surprised to discover that she prefers the first version (without the actors).  Her arguments are that the actors distract her from the course.  She was looking at the pictures rather that listening the instructions.  She also found the fact that the actors are static images kind of disruptive and non-natural.

Now.  What is YOUR opinion?

Some tips and tricks on using the Characters.

My intentions in te second version of the course was to be closer to the students by introducing the course in a more human and friendly way.  While thinking about it I came up with a few guidelines that I tried to follow.

  1. Always use the same one or two characters in a given course.  It is important that the student can identify the characters you use.  These characters are to become their learning buddy, their guide into the content.  If you change and use too many different characters in the same course, it is likely that you will not achieve this identification.
  2. Use the tools of the Properties panel to multiply the possibilities (see the image below)
  3. Try not to use the same image twice in the same sequence.  In a eLearning situation, the learner is in font of a machine.  One of the goals of these characters is to humanize the course in an attempt to make the learner forget that it is a machine that is actually teaching.  Using the same image twice might remind the students that this is in fact all fake and that the course is indeed taught by a machine.
  4. Use the tools of the Image Edit  accordion of the Properties panel.  In the above sequences, I've made a heavy use of the Flip Horizontal icon.  I t is a very simple and efficient way to double the number of images available in the collection!
  5. Integrate the characters in the rest of the story.  For example, always use the same character for a given type of feedback or for a given action.  Also, be careful to make the voice-over narration correspond to the right character. Pay particular attention to the way these elements are synchronized on the Timeline.  If a female character appears on the screen at the same time as a male voice (or vice versa) it will be immediately noticed and you'll lose your credibility as a developer.
  6. Don't put characters on every single slide of your course.  I think that Characters are useful each time a new sequence begins (such as the beginning of the course, the first slide of a quiz,...), as well as at the very end of the ourse.  However, I think that such an image on every single slide of the course will most probably overcharge your slides and drive your student's attention away from the core of the course.
Use the tools of the Properties panel to multiply the possibilities
Use the tools of the Properties panel to multiply the possibilities

How to add these characters in the course?

This is the easiest part!  In Captivate 6, there is this new Insert -> Characters menu item that opens nice dialog box in which you can easily  choose an actor from the collection of images provided by Captivate.

Keep in mind though that it may be necessary to download and install an extra package before you can insert these Characters in the course.  ( download for Mac and for PC)

This dialog box lets you easily choose a character to insert in your Captivate course
This dialog box lets you easily choose a character to insert in your Captivate course

Conclusion

Although not a revolutionary or innovative new feature (images have been around in Captivate since version 1), the Insert -> Characters menu item is a very nice little addition to Captivate 6.  I think it helps us make our courses more human, more engaging and more fun.  I kind of like it when a new feature is not just another technical wonder that easily achieve a 'Whaaaaw' effect.  Instead, this little new thing helps us do our primary job: simply teach better!

The only thing I would add to the way this feature is implemented is a bigger preview of the actor when the mouse hovers an image in the Characters dialog....

Don't hesitate to share your thoughts and experience on this fature.


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