In the last couple of months I had this great chance to be in charge of a brand new eLearning project for the school I work at. Along with my colleague Serge Paulus, I’ve been teaching 550 students how to use Adobe Creative suite applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and InDesing) using distant learning techniques only! But for the Captivate developer that I am, the most interesting part of this adventure was to see my colleague Serge makes its debuts with Captivate.

To prepare for this blog post, I’ve been talking with Serge, asking him about his newbie experience with Captivate. We came up with these 10 simple tips and tricks to jump start your Captivate 6 experience.

The Capture phase

A typical Captivate demonstration or simulation begins with the Capture phase. In this part of the workflow, you typically use the screen capture engine of Captivate to generate the slides of your Demonstration or Simulation. The quality of the Capture Phase is critical to the success of the rest of the workflow and, ultimately to the overall quality of your project. Here follows some tips and tricks for a successful capture phase.

Tip 1: Act slowly

When capturing the slides, make sure you perform all the steps you want to record slowly enough. I can figure out at least 3 reasons why you should act slowly when capturing the slides.

  • Keep in mind that Captivate needs to capture all the steps you are doing in the application you capture. Imagine you open a drop down list and choose an option in that list. For Captivate, that makes 3 screenshots to take. One with the original option, one with the drop down list open and one with the chosen option. (See the illustration below) If you go too fast, chances are that Captivate won’t be able to capture all the required screenshots!
A drop down list requires the capture ot 3 screenshots
Opening a drop down list and choosing an option required that Captivate generates 3 screenshots (slides)
  • Drag and drop actions as well as mouse wheel actions are shot using the Full Motion Recording (FMR) capture mode. (Full Motion Recording is an actual frame-by-frame animation). Captivate has an interesting feature that automatically switches from normal capture mode to FMR when a drag and drop or mouse wheel action is detected during the capture. Again, make sure you let Captivate enough time to realize that it needs to switch to FMR mode before capturing the frame by frame animation and switching back to normal capture mode at the end of the movement.
Full motion recording automatic preferences
The 'Smoothen movements for' checkboxes in the Preferences of Captivate are used to switch to FMR when appropriate
  • Finally, don’t forget that by default, your actions are not captured in real time. In other words, you’ll be able to precisely adjust the timing of each slide during the editing phase of the workflow

By default, Captivate plays a camera shutter sound each time it generates a new slide. This nice option helps you keep track of the captured slide as you progress into the recording. Just make sure that your sound system is turned on during the capture.

Tip 2: Capture extra screenshots manually

During a normal capture phase, Captivate takes a screenshot each time you click. Most of the time, this default behavior is exactly what we need.

But there are circumstances, when we want things to happen differently. Say for example, that you want to create an interactive simulation where the student needs to open a drop down list and choose the right option in the list. Remember that most applications add a rollover effect when the mouse cursor hovers an option in a drop down list. Obviously, this rollover effect will be captured by Captivate. The rollover effect will simply show the student where to click, and your assessment strategy can be compromised. (See the picture below).

Beware of rollover effects when capturing a slide
The screenshot on the left (1) has been automatically captured by Captivate and features the rollover effect on the drop-down list option. The screenshot on the right (2) has been manually captured by the PrintScreen (Win) or Cmd +F6 (Mac) shortcut and does not contain the rollover effect. The latter is the one that will make its way to the final publication!

To avoid this, you should use the Print Screen (Windows) or Cmd + F6 (mac) shortcut to manually take extra screenshots. During the editing phase that follows, you’ll be able to delete the extra slides anyway!

Personally, I used this all the time. My first task in the editing phase is to choose which slides I keep and which slides I discard. It is not uncommon for me to discard 40 or even 50 % of the captured slides! The bottom line is: it is much easier to delete an extra slide that to create one that was not captured!

And.. oh yes! Make sure you use the Save As command before discarding slides. That way, you’ll keep a raw copy of your file with all the captured slides should you change your mind and re-insert a discarded screenshot in the project later on!

Tip 3: Don’t record narration when capturing the slides.

Coming up with all the needed screenshots if the primary objective of the capture phase. Remember that the quality of the captured screenshot is a critical part of the overall quality of your final product. In fact, it is so important that during the capture phase, your entire attention should be focused on this single task: generating the screenshots.

Audio is another critical aspect that makes up the quality of the final project. In fact it is so important, that you should concentrate only on the narration when recording it!

I thing you got the point! By recording the screenshots and the narration separately, you can give each of these aspects of the project the needed attention. Of course, it adds an extra step in your workflow (recording the narration), but this is the cost of quality! Believe me, your students will appreciate it!

The editing phase

Once you have all the required screenshots, it is time to move on to the second phase of the Captivate workflow: the editing phase. It is during the editing phase that your project will slowly take shape. This phase is the most time-consuming of the entire process. It is during the editing phase that you’ll add objects to the slides, that you’ll adjust the position, size and formatting of these objects, that you’ll adjust their timing, etc.

Tip 4: Use Styles, templates and themes

Using Styles, Templates and Themes has two major benefits.

  • First, it will speed you up! Of course, it takes a bit of time to come up with the right customized template and the right customized theme containing all the right customized styles! But once that job is done, you’ll quickly regain the time spend!
  • But more importantly, the Styles, Templates and Themes will help you achieve consistency both within your projects and across projects. As a teacher, I strongly believe that consistency is one of the keys for the success of an eLearning strategy. Remember that your students will be alone while watching your courses, with no teacher around to answer their questions or to guide them through the course. By delivering a consistent experience, your students will quickly get used to how your learning objects are made and they will quickly know how to interact with them. This will allow them to concentrate on the topics you want to teach rather than how to use your online course!

Tip 5: Let them be in charge!

Finding the right pace for your eLearning projects certainly is one of the most difficult challenges to address. If the course goes too fast, chances are that your students will be overwhelmed with information. But if the course goes too slow, your students will quickly get bored and you’ll loose their undivided attention (Facebook only is a clic away when taking an online course). In both cases, you’ll miss the teaching point!

In your quest for the right pace, you’ll also encounter another big problem! The right pace for one student may not be the right pace for another student! This is especially true in an international environment where some students have to take their online course in a different language than their native language. Depending on their mastery of the foreign language, they needs are different.

So, why not let the student be in charge of the overall rhythm of its online course? Achieving this is very easy in Captivate. As a matter of fact, making an extensive use of the button object is all it takes to put the student in charge of its learning process!

These are two example of what can be easily achieved with the button object

  • Add a button to stop the playhead on slides with a lot of text. By clicking on the button, the student simply releases the playhead when he sees fit! This gives him all the time he needs to go through the text!
  • At the end of a sequence, give your students the opportunity to repeat the sequence of to move on to the next sequence. If a student didn’t get it the first time he will appreciate! Just make sure your sequences are small enough though!

Tip 6: KISS the simplicity.

You certainly remember this shiny blinking over-animated Power Point presentation that was supposed to support the boring session of a bad speaker! (Well I do remember it! My colleagues and I spend the entire session trying to figure out what would be the next animation. We had a lot of fun, but I don’t even remember what the session was about! That speaker entirely missed its point despite his great mastery of Power Point animations!) You probably also remember these slides with so much information on it that it was just impossible to read it all before the next slide pulled in!

If we don’t pay attention tho this, there is a chance that we repeat the exact same mistakes in our Captivate projects. That’s why, my 6th tip is Keep It Stupid Simple!

By keeping it simple, you’ll avoid many distractions for the student and keep him focused on what he has to do: learning!

Finally, these animations can be used to (re)activate the learner’s attention when we need it. Imagine that all text captions on every slide enter the stage the same way (using a motion path or another built-in, yet subtle, animation). After a short while, the students won’t notice this animation anymore. It’s just part of the decorum! Now, change this animation on the next summary slide, and make sure the change is noticeable enough. The students will immediately notice that ‘something’ has changed and their attention will be re-activated just at the moment you need it! This simple trick only works if you keep simplicity in mind! Only 2 animations are required: one for the usual slides and another one for the summary slides. If you over-animate your projects, this trick will not work!

Tip 7: Captivate objects Vs Power Point imports

Captivate has this wonderful feature that allows you to convert an existing PowerPoint presentation into a Captivate project. This feature works great and certainly is one of the cornerstones of Captivate. Be aware though that each PowerPoint slide is converted into a flat animation slide in Captivate. In other words, the imported slides cannot be easily edited in Captivate. If you need to adjust something, you’ll need to return to PowerPoint. Hopefully, going back and forth between PowerPoint and Captivate is fully supported (It’s called Round-tripping and it works fine, especially on the Windows platform). Nevertheless, having to cope with 2 applications at the same time adds an un-necessary layer of complexity.

In my opinion, the PowerPoint to Captivate import is the right solution is the following two situations.

  • When you need to recycle existing PowerPoint content into eLearning content
  • When you need to involve someone who doesn’t know Captivate in the development of your online courses.

But when you want to create a brand new piece of eLearning content, it is probably better to do the whole thing directly in Captivate. Thanks to the Animations panel and to the large collection of objects and smart shapes available, you’ll be able to achieve PowerPoint-like effects while retaining all the native editing capabilities of Captivate.

Also, keep in mind that you can add Captivate objects on top of an imported Power Point slide. This allows you to take an hybrid approach where the Captivate objects are used to enhance an imported PowerPoint presentation.

Tip 8 : Use Audio Wisely

Depending on how you use it, audio can dramatically enhance the overall quality of your project or... completely compromise it! In Captivate, audio can be added at 3 different levels in the project.

  • Object-level audio - In this case the audio clip is associated with a specific object. The audio starts playing when the object appears on the stage.
  • Slide-level audio - In this case the audio clip is associated with a particular slide. It plays in sync with the slides and is visible in the slide timeline.
  • Project level audio - Also knows as background audio, this audio clip is associated with the project as a whole. It usually is a small sound sample that loops during the entire project.

You’ll typically use object-level audio for sound effects (boom, whoooosh, bang, clicks,...), slide level audio for voice-over narration and project level audio for background music! Even though nothing technically prevents you to act different, I suggest you stick to this natural placement rules for your audio clips (unless, of course, you want to achieve some kind of special effect).

As general rules, these are some tips and tricks to keep in mind when working with audio

  • Don’t use background music! It is the ultimate source of distraction that drives your students' attention away from your course!
  • Use object-level sound effects with care. Nothing is more annoying and tiring than a course that sounds like a video game!
  • Spend the needed time to record and process the narration so it is of good quality. Remember that your students will listen to these clips for countless hours, consequently, a boring tone or a poor quality audio could compromise the entire (otherwise perfect) learning experience (see my series of posts on producing high quality audio content for Captivate).
  • If you intend to publish your project in HTML 5, make sure no audio overlap (for example, an object level audio and a slide level audio that need to play at the same time). In a HTML 5 project, I suggest you stick to slide-level voice-over narration.
  • Keep your audio accessible by adding closed captions. This is especially true in an international environment where some students take the course in a foreign language.
  • Don’t use the text-to-speech feature. Tex-to-Speech is good for proof of concepts or to showcase your work in progress to your customer. You should avoid it in the final release of your project though!
  • Finally, keep in mind that the sound can be very intrusive and aggressive. If you use sound, always provide a way to turn it off or adjust the volume!

Finally, there is a simple trick that I use all the time. When I add slide-level voice over narration to a slide, I move the sound clip on the timeline so it starts half a second into the slide. This smoothen the overall rhythm of the project and diminishes the intrusive and aggressive impression that sound can induce.

Make the sound begin half a second into the slide
By making the voice over narration start half a second into the slide, you reduce the intrusive and aggressive feeling that the sound can induce

The Publishing phase

The publishing phase is the last one in the workflow. This is where you make your project available to the outside world. Historically, Captivate was designed to publish your projects in Flash, but with the advent of mobile devices (Tablets and Smartphone) it has been necessary to add the capability to export the projects in HTML5.

Tip 9: Do not publish the same project in Flash AND HTML 5

The only reason why you want to publish your project to HTML5 is to make them accessible to mobile devices users. If the project is intended to be played on a desktop or laptop computer (or any flash-enabled device) there is no point in publishing the project in HTML 5. So let’s take for granted that an HTML 5 project targets mobile devices.

Do not publish the same project in HTML 5 and Flash
You should refrain from ticking both these boxes for the same Captivate project!

Well, the user experience on these devices is very different from the user experience on a desktop or laptop computer. To list but a few of these differences,

  • The screen real estate of a mobile device usually is smaller than what is available on a computer. This is especially true for smartphones. The resolution of your existing Captivate project might not fit these small screens.
  • The number of screen sizes / resolutions we have to cope with in the mobile world is much more important that what is seen in the desktop / laptop world. Again, this probably means changing the size / resolution of your existing projects.
  • The user has no mouse, but uses his finger instead. Consequently, rollover and drag/ drop actions are not possible. The rollover objects of Captivate (Rollover Captions, Rollover Images and Rollover slidelet) are therefore not supported in the HTML 5 output.
  • A finger usually is much larger than a mouse cursor! The ‘tap’ action is therefore much less precise than its ‘click’ counterpart. Consequently, we should enlarge our click boxes and buttons to give our mobile audience a chance to ‘tap’ the right spot!
  • These devices usually rely exclusively on Wi-Fi or 3G networks to connect to the Internet. Due to their mobile nature and to the means by which they connect to the Internet, these users are subject to slower connection and connection dropouts! Perhaps the sound clips in your project need an extra compression and your videos probably need to be re-encoded to save bandwidth. Keep also in mind that LMS integration requires a working connection to sent the scoring data back to the server!

When publishing to HTML 5, be aware the not all the Captivate objects are supported in the HTML5 output. In other words, you have access to a reduced set of tools when authoring a mobile-enabled piece of eLearning content.

The HTML 5 tracker of Captivate 6
The HTML5 Tracker of Captivate 6 helps you locate the objects, slides and animations that are not supported in the HTML 5 output

For all these reasons (plus lots of other reasons not listed here) you should refrain from taking an existing (Flash) project and simply re-publish it to HTML5. Authoring a mobile Captivate project requires a specific approach, specific design choices, well planned interactions, etc.

The Grand daddy of all tips
Tip 10 : Plan Plan Plan!!!

This one should be obvious to all the teachers reading these lines. The ultimate trick to produce a successful high quality piece of eLearning content with Adobe Captivate (or any other eLearning authoring tool) is to plan!

  • Start by creating an outline of your course and make sure you communicate it to your student throughout the online course.
  • Have a scenario, or at least a worksheet ready for each file of your course.
  • Write your voice-over narration before recording them. You’ll gain a lot of time during the recording while making sure do you not forget to say something!
  • Make sure all your external assets (images, video files, animations, logos,...) are ready before you open Captivate

The first choice you’ll have to make in Captivate is to choose the size of your project. You should carefully plan for this. If your published content needs to be integrated into an existing website or in a LMS, ask the person responsible for the website/ LMS about the resolutions supported by these platforms. You don’t want to find out at the very end of the project, that you’ve been wrong right from the start!


Knowing Captivate is not enough to actually use it efficiently! Your experience of the product, a good preparation, a well established workflow along with a bit of patience are the keys to unlock the true power of this powerful application!

If you are a newbie (such as my Colleague Serge) you’ll probably be very frustrated by your first attempts with Captivate. My advice is Keep trying! The learning curve is pretty fast, and you’ll soon be on your way to become a true Captivate 6 eLearning developer!