BOOK REVIEW: “Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen

“Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen

© Ugur Akinci

“Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen is a heavy book, both literally (top-quality glossy paper) and figuratively. It’s an important reference work that I think all trainers, instructors, and e-learning designers should read.

We are lucky to have today e-learning tools like Adobe Captivate and others. Setting up slides, quizzes, links, buttons, voiceovers, inserting images, videos etc. is a breeze.

However, when it comes to designing a learning experience that would actually help the students learn, and make a difference in their lives by changing the way they ACT, I believe there is no one-click app for that.

That complex skill, which requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of our prospective audience, needs to be deconstructed first, its individual components pulled apart and laid bare, and then reconstructed for a training package that really works and changes lives.

Dirksen’s easy-to-read and well-illustrated book accomplishes that goal in 300 full-color gorgeous pages.

The author starts from the A-B-Cs of the subject like “How do we remember?” and “How do you get their attention?” and ratchets up the discussion to higher orbits by diving into different design styles and goals: designing for knowledge, for skills, for motivation, and designing for habits.

One of my favorite chapters in this lovely guide is the last chapter devoted to “Designing Evaluation” since it asks the same questions that I ask myself all the time: does it work? Are the students learning anything? Do they remember anything? Do the learners actually start DOING the right things once the training is over?

Another favorite section is “How learners are different from you?” since for me the greatest trap is to assume that my readers are more or less like me, which they rarely are. Just to realize the ways in which our readers are different from us and understand what we should do to close that perception and cognitive gap is a major design accomplishment, I believe.

The book is rich in laying out the general principles and the research that supports them. But it’s also jam-packed with examples and illustrations to drive home the message.

Chapters are divided into sections, each with its easy-on-the-eye subheader, making it a pleasure both to peruse through the volume and to stop and dive deeper by concentrating on various characters playing different roles during the design process.

For example, in the subsection “Remember, Change Is Hard,” Dirksen presents the photos of four characters, each with a “plausible” excuse not to change and keep doing everything the same old way. Such presentations make the material immediately accessible since it becomes so easy to identify with the characters. We end up saying “yeah, I do that too…” after which we have a renewed and stronger commitment to the material in front of us.

Here are some suggestive headlines from sections that might change the way you design your training materials in the future:

  • “How can you know what your learners are thinking?” (p.51)
  • “What’s pace layering?” (p.74)
  • “Storytelling & Conditioned Memory” (pp. 110, 111)
  • “Tell them less, not more” (p.185)
  • “Create friction” (p.166)
  • “Have learners consider what they already know” (p.162)
  • “How do you give directions?” (p.177)
  • “The anatomy of a habit” (p. 231)
  • “Social and informal learning” (p. 243)
  • “What are we trying to measure?” (p. 272)
  • “Are the learners actually doing the right things?” (p. 283)

Get your copy today. Highly recommended.

Why does Captivate need THREE Eye Buttons?

Title is not an nostalgic reference to the best spreadsheet application ever (Lotus 1-2-3) but is related to… Captivate.
The THREE ‘eye buttons’ in Captivate are a source of confusion because they have exactly the same look (contrary to my image above) but show very different functionality.
Questions due to that confusion appear not as frequently as the timeline misunderstanding questions, but nevertheless think that a clear explanation could help to dissipate confusion:

1. Eye button on the Timeline

This button appears in the timeline panel in the first column, on top, next to the lock button. If you click the top button all objects on the stage are hidden. To hide individual objects, click a radiobutton left of the object timeiine. A red cross will appear (see screenshot below). A full explanation of this and other timeline features and can be found in this article. Hiding an object on the stage has no effect whatsoever on the presence of that object when publishing (or previewing) the course: the object will be visible. What is the goal of this eye button? As you know (if you did read the article about the timeline), contrary to normal video timelines (included the Video Demo Timeline), a cptx slide will show all objects on the stage, whether they are scheduled to appear from the start or later on. That makes aligning a lot easier, but can also lead to a very crowded stage where objects are covering up other objects (except in the case of Fluid Boxes). To facilitate editing, it can be useful to hide some objects using this first Eye button.

This screenshot, taken from the game explained in ‘Using the While loop‘ shows several hidden (on stage) objects and even a group. Since the topmost group still has one visible object (click box), its bounding box is visible on the stage. For the other group even the bounding box has disappeared.

There is one exception: you can also click the radio button left of the slide timeline. In that case the slide will be hidden (with all its content) and it will not appear when previewing/publishing. It is an alternative work flow for using the right click menu on slide(s) in the Filmstrip, option ‘Hide Slide’. With both work flows you’ll see a dimmed slide in the Filmstrip and an eye icon (not a button) as indicator.

Eye button in the Properties panel: Visibility in Output

If you want an object to be initially invisible in the published course, you need to click this button in the Properties panel (inspector) of that object, top left. It is almost the opposite button of the first because the object will not disappear on the stage at all. Why would you hide an object in a published course? Maybe because you’ll want to make it visible later on.  Example: you want to allow navigation to the Next slide only after certain actions have been performed by the learner (like clicking hotspots, or entering text in fields). Showing an object will be done with the command ‘Show’. Making an object invisible by using this second Eye button can also be done on runtime by the action ‘Hide’ and that is often a better approach.  Since you can show a hidden object, it means that the object is included in the published version which is not the case with a hidden slide. A hidden slide is not included in the published course.

Eye button in the Drag&Drop panel

When this button is set to ‘active’, and you did set up the Drag&Drop interactivity by defining the drag sources, the drop targets and the links for correct answers those three components are made visible: green rectangles for the drag sources, blue rectangles for the drop targets and blue arrows for the links. When you deactivate this eye icon, those indicators will disappear. Since it happens that Captivate deactivates that button without your consent, it is good to know how to make those indicators visible: click on the barred eye icon:

eLearning Webinar (YouTube Live Stream) – Adobe Presenter Video Express, June 26, 2017 at 14:00 EDT

In this week’s eLearning LIVE STREAM, I will share with you Adobe Presenter Video Express or PVX for short. I will discuss why I feel this might be a great alternative for some over Adobe Captivate. If there is the time I will also answer any specific questions related to advanced actions, new releases, alternative software and other eLearning related topics.
Follow the link right now to set up a reminder for yourself so you get notified when this LIVE STREAM goes live.
Use the same link to join the LIVE STREAM while it’s in progress.

Building responsive simulations with Adobe Captivate 2017

Adobe Captivate 2017 comes with an exciting new workflow to aid in the creation of responsive eLearning courses: Fluid Boxes. Instead of designing multiple slides for different screen sizes (known as breakpoints), you work on a single slide. Fluid Boxes, containers that you insert on the stage and then populate with content, improve the responsive development time significantly.

Let’s take a look at the steps to record a responsive simulation with Captivate 2017:

To begin, start Captivate 2017 and double-click the Responsive Project thumbnail on the New tab of the Home screen.

1_Captivate 2017 Welcome Screen
A new, responsive project is created. Unlike Captivate 8 and 9 responsive projects, there are no breakpoints. Instead, you will see the Preview-in drop down list and the Preview Slider, to view how the content will be displayed on different device sizes, right inside the Captivate edit area.
2_Responsive Preview Options

Notice that the default maximum width and height of responsive projects in Captivate 2017 is set to 1024 x 627. You can increase or decrease it by rescaling the project.

To rescale the project, click Modify > Rescale Project.

In the Rescale Project dialog, enter the new width and height in pixels or percentage, and click Finish.

3_Rescale Project

Now let’s record the simulation. Go to the Toolbar and click Slides > Software Simulation (Click OK to confirm addition of slides after the selected slide.)

Select the window you wish to record, click the Record button, and then record the simulation (press the End key on your keyboard to finish recording).

The recorded slides are added to the Captivate project. Notice that there’s a blue rectangle on each of the simulation slides. The blue rectangle is the focus area of the simulation. It’s only visible in the edit area, and will disappear when you preview or publish the project. Note that the size of this blue rectangle is the minimum supported device size for Captivate responsive projects.

4_Blue Rectangle

You can reposition this blue rectangle to any other location and you’ll want to ensure that the rectangle covers the click area in the simulation.

To preview the slide in different device sizes, select the device options from the Preview-in drop-down menu. Notice that the visible area is always surrounding the blue rectangle and the rest of the area is greyed out.

5_Preview In Devices

To preview the entire project, choose Preview > Project. You can move the slider to check the responsiveness of your simulation.

When you publish and deploy the responsive simulation course to an LMS or web server and view it on a mobile phone or tablet, you will be able to pan to the areas which are not shown in the simulation. And as a result of this special panning functionality in responsive simulations, the default Swipe Right, Left, Up, or Down gestures are disabled for all the responsive simulation slides.

Want to learn more about the new features and enhancements in Adobe Captivate 2017? Check out my Captivate 2017: First look course on and LinkedIn Learning.

This post was first published in IconLogic blog.

Thoughts on HTML5 output and TTS

Hello everyone,

I would like to discuss some issues with HTML output.

I have a short demo project (Here is the link . The demo is about common resume mistakes). Since the project is text-heavy, I did not adapt it for smaller screens.

What I am struggling is that the output looks different depending on the browser.

Typical issues:

  • In certain browsers, the highlight box randomly changes its location. ( From my experience, the highlight box feature is buggy. Its position in a preview mode is always different from the actual position in a published project.)
  • In some browsers, the text can get cut- off.
  • The characters can get distorted. ( I am using Smart position, height, and weight in percentage as if it were a responsive project.)

I am familiar with basic HTML5 and CSS and understand why different browsers might display content differently. Just wondering if you can share any tips or best practices dealing with HTML 5 output.
I have another unrelated question. What is your opinion on TTS? Do you use it in your projects? I tried experimenting with the VTML tags, but still, I am not satisfied with the result. Do you use TTS for your projects?

Thank you


Making the Most of Adobe Captivate 2017’s WHILE Loop

Adobe Captivate 2017 is packed with a ton of new features. One that you may have missed is the new WHILE condition in Advanced Actions. Even if you did notice it, you may be wondering: What is the point? Why would I use that? Or, how would I use that? Well how about something like this demo course? Please read on to discover how I built that demo.

WHILE conditions have been used in programming since… well, since there has been programming. The principle idea is to keep your program doing something while a condition exists. An example might be, “The button is blue while the mouse hovers over it.”  Thankfully that logic is already built into Captivate (and most programs). But what about something like, “The alarm will sound while the character is exposed to gases”? Now we can build interactions like that in Captivate.

Before we dig into the more complex example let’s build a simple demo of the WHILE condition. In this example we will build a timer of sorts. Our statement will be, “count upwards while the counter is running”.  We can view the output of this example here.

We begin by creating two variables:

  • “counter” (defaults to 0)
  • “run_counter” (defaults to 1)

Next, we build our Advanced Action.

  1. Create a new Conditional Tab.
  2. Change the type to “While”.
  3. Our only Condition is: “run_counter” is equal to 1.
  4. The only Action is: Increment “counter” by 1.
  5. Name the Action “count_up” and save and close it.

  1. Set the slide On Enter Action to run our new count_up Advanced Action.
  2. Then we display those two variables on the slide so we can watch as the coolness unfolds.

When we preview the slide in the browser you will see that the counter steadily climbs upward, even when the timeline ends or pauses. Captivate runs the WHILE Loop every second so in effect we have just built a timer!

Now to add some complexity to our example we’ll create a few buttons with actions.

  1. Add a button and change the title to “Stop”.
  2. Set its action to Assign run_counter with the value of 0.
  3. Preview the slide in the browser.

Now when we click the stop button the run_counter variable will be set to 0. The next time our WHILE loop runs it will notice that run_counter is no longer equal to 1 and it will stop and exit the loop, which turns off our timer.

Watch the video below to see how to pause, restart, and reset the counter. One of the solutions I demonstrate in the video uses JavaScript to enable an Advanced Action to trigger another Advanced Action. To learn more about that technique see my previous blog post, How to Trigger Captivate Advanced Actions with Javascript.

Now that we have a basic loop running we can use it to perform other actions. Really we can run whatever code we want every second. We can use these loops to run animations, play audio, blink objects, etc. Let your imagination run wild! And, if you would rather run it every five seconds,for example, you could add Captivate’s built-in “Delay Next Actions by” Action.

In the video below I walk through using the WHILE Loop to continuously spin an arrow until the Learner clicks stop. You can view the output of this example here.

Finally, this video will show you how to build a more robust example with multiple conditions in our WHILE Loop. Click here to play with the fun demo.

I hope this post has sparked your imagination and clarified what a WHILE Loop is and when/how you would use it. If so, please share your ideas in the comments below!

James Kingsley has worked in the eLearning Industry for over 15 years. He has won several awards for combining technologies to produce better eLearning. He is an Articulate MVP. James is the Senior Technology Architect for eLearning Brothers and the Co-Founder of You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn for additional tips and examples.

Webinar Recap: Captivate 2017 Fluid Boxes—Advanced Tips and Tricks

Last Thursday, it was our pleasure to host a webinar featuring Dr Pooja Jaisingh, a renowned eLearning and Captivate expert and the founder of LearninGeeks. She joined us to discuss some advanced tips and tricks for Fluid Boxes, part of the newly released Captivate 2017.

Here is the video –

Some of the highlights included:

  • Proper use of Static fluid boxes
  • Stacking fluid boxes inside other fluid boxes
  • Making fluid boxes and objects optional
  • Configuring Fluid Boxes

She also reviewed some tips for converting a non-responsive project to a responsive project using Captivate 2017.

During the webinar, Pooja used this sample Captivate project to demonstrate the techniques she was discussing.

Captivate 2017 Fluid boxes are a powerful tool that can really aid in your responsive eLearning course development, so hopefully this webinar helps you learn how to better use them in your eLearning development.

What Will elearning Look Like In The Future?

Lately I’ve been wondering what elearning will look  like in the future.

With technologies always emerging like virtual reality, gamification and more focus on mobile learning; will there still be a place for the current format of working through modules slide by slide?

I think technologies like VR will become more affordable for everyone and when the process is made easier, it could possibly become the new norm. But is this realistic, and what other technologies do you think could also change how we make training?

It also brings up the question of what skills do you think we should be learning now, for the future, so our current skills won’t become outdated.

Would love to hear your thoughts.


Adobe Captivate 9 crashes on launch

If you are using Adobe Captivate 9 or 9.0.421, and witnessing frequent crashes on starting the product or even while working with a feature, follow the steps in this kb document.

Depending on the issue, the following are the fixes involved:

  • Upgrade Captivate version 9
  • Run Captivate as administrator
  • Recreate preferences
  • Logging in and out of current user account
  • Troubleshooting fonts

The list is not exhaustive. As and when we see user-reported issues, we will continue to update the kb document. Please bookmark the document below: