By Sandra Meadows
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH FLASH?
Adobe Flash, the go-to platform responsible for creating lightweight vector animations, video players and interactive content for the web and within learning modules, is quickly becoming obsolete in our mobile, web-responsive world. Many now believe that HTML5, the current iteration of HTML, with features that can also create animation and deliver video content without the requirements and limitations of Flash, will soon replace it. This is increasingly likely considering the fact that many E-Learning courses that are built on Flash do not currently work on mobile devices. However, this is necessary for many students, who will want greater flexibility and the option of multiple platforms on which to view and interact with their online courses.
In his blog post, Programming Is Back: The Rise of HTML5 for E-Learning, Thomas Toth explains how such E-Learning authoring software has conveniently provided instructional designers and E-Learning developers with a process that removed the steps involved in coding:
“…[F]or a long time, many E-Learning authoring tools exported solely to a Flash format, and the .swf (i.e. small web format) files they generated required a Flash player for learners to view content in a browser. This was great because the Flash player was already built into every desktop browser, so everyone could view the content” (ATD, 2015).
However, now that many companies are rallying behind the call to phase out Flash and to make HTML5 the standard, instructional designers are compelled to publish content with the new HTML5.
CREATING E-LEARNING, POST-FLASH
Flexibility is an invaluable trait for instructional designers, and no one tool can completely satisfy their need to build adaptive, high quality E-Learning materials and courses for modern students. In fact some say that when Flash is finally phased out, instructional designers will simply go from using Flash-dependent software to apps that can create “stunning animated and interactive HTML5 content,” a claim made by Tumult about Tumult Hype Professional, their HMTL5-based creation app for animation, E-Learning content and game creation. This mindset believes that there is no need to wear multiple hats, that of the programmer and the instructional designer, in order to get the job done. In other words, the technical expertise should always reside with the tools, thus freeing up the ID to more fully focus on the design-related aspects of their projects.
Still, being flexible means understanding what platforms our students will use when accessing E-Learning, online. For example there is still widespread use of the Internet Explorer 8 browser, which does not support HTML5. So a learning module made with HTML5 will not function within that browser. This may leave some students with limited access to the learning content, unless that content is also published in Flash.
Ian Huckabee of Weejee Learning states that, “If the audience for your learning is primarily mobile, develop it in HTML5. If it’s not, consider Flash. If it’s both, create solutions in both. When we put the numbers to it, it was a lot cheaper than we originally thought to develop both an HTML5 solution and a Flash solution (Weejee, 2012)”. Again, flexibility is the most powerful trait an instructional designer can possess, and taking on coding as another tech tool would appear to contribute towards that flexibility. However, according to Reuben Tozman, author of The Next Generation of Instructional Designer, traditionally:
“[T]o design the ideal learning situation we needed, first, to ignore any thoughts about the delivery platform, and instead focus on learners, content, and environment. But in today’s technology-based world, we tell instructional designers to forgo this process, and create a technology-dependent product upfront” (LSM, 2015).
The balance between satisfying new technology demands and practicing sound instructional design is delicate. For some, focusing on maintaining instructional design standards that stand the test of time is most important.
Instructional designers who understand computer code will be able to troubleshoot problems with published HTML5 content. Thomas Toth, in his article states that “Several popular authoring tools now export to HTML5, but the consistency of the projects to work across browsers is still an issue […] until a pure HTML5 authoring tool is available […] the best way to create HTML5 content is to code it specifically for the device used in your environment (ATD, 2016)”.
We are deeply enmeshed in the age of Web 2.0, which means understanding the technologies that comprise it: XHTML and HTML markup languages; CSS; microformats; folksonomies, or tagging conventions; weblog publishing, wiki or forum software; and much more. With these come the overarching intention of making everything searchable and measurable. This poses more challenges and opportunities for instructional designers who have an interest in providing data-driven learning for an academic environment.
Regardless of opinion though, instructional designers must design and develop learning content that stays relevant with students. Whether it means that they have to rely on tech tools, bring programmers into the design and implementation process, or learn to apply a new suite of skills that includes code, modern instructional designers are flexible enough to meet those challenges, and more.
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