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Monday, November 14, 2011

Flash Dead for eLearning

I've been warning about this since January 2010 in Still No Flash, and called it out further as the signs became more serious in May 2010 with Beginning of Long Slow Death of Flash.  My words then:

We are hitting a tipping point where you have to question building anything that uses Flash as the delivery mechanism. 

Screen-Shot-2011-11-09-at-12.17.08-PMIn February of 2011, Mobile Learning and the Continuing Death of Flash, I pointed to the smart moves by Rapid Intake to work around this problem.  And said,

The death of Flash is continuing.

Well, I believe we've seen continuing signs of this with Adobe moving its tools towards HTML 5.  And now, Adobe Admits: Apple Won, Flash For Mobile is Done, HTML5 is the Future.

What does all of this mean?  No More Fence Sitting!

Content Creators => you can no longer build content in Flash as a delivery vehicle.  You must adopt tools that do not rely on Flash as a delivery mechanism or at least delivery solutions to Flash and HTML 5.

Authoring Tool Companies => you must immediately talk to your product roadmap and how you will be able to deliver HTML 5 content.  You must look at how media will be handled going forward.

This may seem like a shock, but we've gone through this transition before as we move from desktop to web-based delivery.  Really Flash was part of that last wave.  It won't be part of the next wave.

Of course, that still leaves some really hard questions about how you design for all the different mobile platforms with widely different screen sizes and their non-standard inputs and widely varying connection speeds.  This is a great opportunity for mobile authoring tools to take a bite out of a much larger market much like the Director to Flash transition did back in the day.

I'll be curious to hear comments on this.


ase said...

Hopefully Articulate will come out with something in HTML5. Additionally, I think SoftChalk has already moved towards HTML5 for their new mobile capabilities. Nice change overall.

Unknown said...

As an instructional designer, I find the lack of a standard platform frustrating - this is supported here, but that isn't. That is supported there, but this isn't. There is something to be said about monopolies. In 1950, we knew that if we built a telephone (does everybody remember telephones and Ma Bell?), it could talk to every other telephone on the market.

mbritt said...

I think this post is too extreme. Flash is not dead either for mobile or for eLearning. Thanks to Adobe's Flash "Packager", you can build a a program in Flash and export it into a form that works both on iOS devices and on Android devices.

I'm building an eLearning app right now which I plan to submit to Apple and Android this week. I've already tested it on my iPad and it works great.

What's truly dead are Flash animations playing on a mobile browser. Those are dead. But Flash is definitely not dead for elearning or mobile.

ckaplan said...

I've been developing flash content for a "long" time (10 years or so) and I think more often than not, we wind up using flash for things that can be done just as well and better with other technologies.

When flash appeared online and made interesting animation possible over small pipes we (people using the interent) were very excited and were happy to see the tag retired for good.

Authorware and Director were solid products for creating content for delivery on CDROM but flash... flash held the promise of delivering that level of interactivity on the web. And it did.

Now, a lot of crazy things happened and people only asked "can we build this in flash" and not so much "SHOULD we build this in flash". What are the advantages, what are the disadvantages?

Many of you know the primary disadvantage is that (in early flash) content was "baked in" - text, images, audio, video - all compiled into the final .swf (or swf's) Smart folks will have been separating their content from their presentation for years now I hope and this will come in handy as we try to repurpose content for mobile.

Sadly - I think we will see a repeat of what happened with PowerPoint and flash and the birth of Rapid Intake and Articulate - "We have all this PowerPoint - what's the quickest way we can get it online?". No doubt these tools solve a "problem" - but what they never did do is really take advantage of the technology to transfomr the content. By and large they just crammed the new technology into the same presentation paradigm. I predict the same is likley to happen with mobile - we'll be trying to read power point content on our mobile devices instead of using them to deliver geo specific realtime - content for just in time information - "There is a code orange alert in effect. You have 3 minutes to report to your assigned post" (GPS and phone interact with training system to record wether or not the student knows where to go...) You see where I'm going with this, right?

If we're really good at what we do we should be able to transcend the technology and make useful and meaningful interactions between any combination of learner, teacher, content, and system.

Flash may have been dying for years politically - but there are things you can do in flash that would take ridiculous amounts of effort to pull off in HTML 5 - and at that, good luck getting all browsers to display / handle it consistently.

I don't believe we should use flash for everything - not by a long shot - but I don't think we should be jumping on this media bandwagon celbrating it's demise either.

Paul Schneider, Ph.D. said...

Why wait for Articulate and the like to come out with "support" for HTML5 when you can get tools that already have native support for HTML5. Judy Unreich had a nice article mentioning a few. My favorite is Claro from Not many tools that support all the devices and are as easy to use from any computer (even those beloved Macs).

Anonymous said...

Think the blogger is ill informed.
Flash player for mobile is dead, not flash. Get that?

Flash will be eventually replaced by htlm5 but
As of now html5 is still evolving.

Kelly Meeker said...

I agree with other commenters: I wish we could skip to the part where we could agree on a standard of some kind! At OpenSesame, one of our key value-adding services is ensuring that any SCORM, AICC or video file will play in any LMS. That's simple and easy to explain. Every day, customers ask us if content purchased on OpenSesame will play on mobile devices - and the answer to that question -- "It depends" -- is neither simple nor easy to explain.

Saint Monday said...

Hi Tony--
Thanks for the great post. I have believed this day was coming for about a year now, and I have been doing my own explorations of HTML5 as an eLearning tool-- many of which have ended up on my new blog Right now it's a bit of a mishmash of interesting links and some articles I've written, but I'd invite anyone who's interested in HTML5 eLearning to contribute links, stories, or comments on this topic.

Steve said...

I too think this stance is a little bit extreme. But not for the reasons most might expect. The spirit in which the discussion is being driven is over the top and short sighted.

I agree with ckaplan's comment "I think more often than not, we wind up using flash for things that can be done just as well and better with other technologies."

We really do use Flash more often than we should. Maybe we should look at the reasons why. Why would we choose to use Flash over other technologies?

I think the main reason is consistency of behavior. You have a platform adaptor that all but ensures your content will appear as you designed it. This layer floats on top of a sea of browsers that have tended to make development a love / hate nightmare.

Now... we have this massive backlash against a technology that has enabled consistency in expectations... It just seems a little bit too dramatic. And quite a bit short sighted and "too soon" based on the outputs I've seen from both custom development outputs (including Canvas which is essentially another Player Layer) as well as tools. I'm disappointed in the state of HTML5 output in all but a minority of cases. I don't yet buy this anti-Flash gospel.

I really dig HTML5. Well.. the promise of the new technology sandwich. Here are my worries:

1) I have yet to see a technology tool that delivers on the promise of outputs "better than Flash" in every case. Someone mentions Claro. I've tried this tool. While it's a great step in the right direction, the outputs aren't the same for the types of things that I would choose to use Flash for. I do think we'll get there and the current dose of anti-Flash Kool-aid will benefit the acceleration of this improvement, we just aren't there yet. And I find this funny since that's the whole argument being levied against Flash.

2) Older browsers still maintain significant positions in the landscape. IE6 and IE7 offer extremely poor support for HTML>4 technologies. On the bright side, this obscene move to kill Flash based largely on rhetoric could also accelerate the demise of these older browsers.

3) Most of the things I built in Flash over 10 years ago including some really basic simulations using AS1 still work using the AS Virtual Machine. Nearly identically on every platform. Consistently. Without any required changes. I built these once and had confidence that they would JUST WORK wherever I deployed them due to the tight control of the platform. Now what? We move to a technology that doesn't work that way. "Standards" that don't JUST WORK wherever they are deployed because every browser chooses to interpret the standard differently.

Like I said, I *love* the idea of a document structure and future friendly assembly driving everything. I also love how the standard is growing up to meet the capabilities formerly offered exclusively by plug-ins. But in reality, it's not possible to expect the kind of panacea being promised by the "replace Flash" crowd. And that's what I'm seeing in the rhetoric. Flash is bad. HTML5 will cure the web of those evils. It's just dishonest. We're setting ourselves up for pain and mismatched expectations.

I'm not dropping Flash from my toolbox. Yes, I'll be using it less. Yes, I'll be embracing every new technology as I have since I started in this business. It's dishonest for folks to encourage the removal of Flash technology from the landscape, particularly given the spirit of the largest influence in this movement. Surely it will generate a heap of new work for those that embrace the technology. Is that really the best business decision here?

David J McClelland said...

I am recommending to my clients to consider other technologies depending on the platform footprint of the content.

The workflow from Flash to iOS or HTML5 is far from optimal for multiple reasons, not least of which is the way the content library or LMS fills up with alternate versions of courses for each platform.

I am disappointed that Adobe wasn't a better steward for this vital technology which solved a lot of technical issues compared to those it posed.

Unknown said...

I worked with Flash since 2000 and as a visual person vs. "code" person I have met a lot of deadlines with this app. Being able to develop products without asking programmers, who are, let be honest, don't really like being taking away from their Notepad, was a really good experience for me. I still work in Flash - building a web based Flash game atm for a customer. I think it's too early for Flash to die - there is no alternative right now, not as good anyway. Adobe should have left Macromedia alone - honestly. They took on a task they can't handle. I find myself moving away from Adobe's heavy tools more and more every day, replacing them with lighter packages.

Steve said...

Good point about the origins of Flash as an artists tool. This is something that should be considered by tool inventors.

Let's hope that Flash itself will export HTML5 in the near future. This resolves multiple issues and continues to support artists in a familiar environment.

Matt said...

Steve, I agree with many of your points. However, I think Tony's fundamental point is correct. It's a technology-platform shift that is taking place and the concerns of designer's such as you and I won't have much to say about it.

Desktops and laptops will still be around for a long time, and plenty of e-learning will no doubt continue to be delivered via Flash. But the shift to mobile is massive, and happening at a much faster rate globally than the first boom of PCs. When a majority of users are accessing sites via mobile devices, it makes no sense to have both Flash and HTML5 content, whatever the content.

The writing is on the wall, whether we designers like it or not, whether HTML5 can do everything we want or not, or whether the tools are as polished or not.

I'm personally all for the shift to HTML5 and feel any serious designer has to start preparing for the inevitable, but I know it's going to be a while before we comparable tool. Be they'll come.

Steve said...

"When a majority of users are accessing sites via mobile devices, it makes no sense to have both Flash and HTML5 content, whatever the content."

This is one of the arguments that gives me pause...

This lays an assumption as fact that:

1) Most users are accessing content via mobile devices, thus rendering the desktop experience irrelevant.

2) The mobile experience should be *the same* as the desktop experience.

I find both of these points to be false. *It depends* applies in heavy doses. The experience should be thoughtfully designed in each case. It is OK to project different experiences for different purposes as PEOPLE will no doubt access via their mobile device for different purposes and WITH DIFFERENT expectations than they would on a desktop.

That said, I propose a different way of looking at this Flash vs. HTML5 issue. I propose NOT looking at it as a Flash vs. HTML5 issue. Use the tools that make sense to the solution at the time.

The writing is only on the wall if contagious irrationality continues to spread. This includes the irrationality that results in the packaging of content to Flash formats that absolutely don't belong there.

It's not an either or proposition. It can be both. It will likely be both for quite some time. Positive things will come of the opportunities presented by the new standards. Lots of positive things. But, let's be honest, we're setting ourselves up for disappointment if we continue to use these dishonest arguments with ourselves and our customers.

Prepare for bad Flash decisions to translate to bad HTML5 decisions, poor browser performance (all of the things that we use as kingpins in the arguments we use to destroy the Flash beast), and the misapplication of technology to solve problems. This new round of technology doesn't change those constants.

Justin Oliver said...

Steve Jobs made it clear that he will eliminate Flash and, surprisingly, Flash is slowly fading (at least for smartphones).

Anonymous said...

Flash isn't dead unless Adobe decides either to take it off the shelves or not to bring it into a 64 bit application. Flash exports to most popular video formats and has done so for some time. Flash also does 3d keying with 2d objects, making it adequate for innovative vector titling animations for Premiere.

Matt said...

"When a majority of users are accessing sites via mobile devices, it makes no sense to have both Flash and HTML5 content, whatever the content."

This is one of the arguments that gives me pause...

This lays an assumption as fact that:

1) Most users are accessing content via mobile devices, thus rendering the desktop experience irrelevant.

2) The mobile experience should be *the same* as the desktop experience.

I don't believe either of the assumptions follow from what I stated. My argument is simply that mobile device access WILL overtake desktop-laptop access relatively soon (estimated 2013-2014). That doesn't make the latter irrelevant but it means content creators have to take that into account.

Point 2 is the opposite of what I was saying: mobile design needs to be different, and if the majority of users are mobile, then HTML5 gets priority. If you also have to create fallback content in Flash, then at some point the scales will tip and it won't be worth it economically.

Furthermore, mLearning (and by that I include tablets) is already a central topic in the ID field with organizations of all kinds moving into it for their training. Plenty of organizations won't. But for designers, it means it's in your best interest to start preparing now for a shift that's clearly already underway.

I agree there will continue to be plenty of work to be done with Flash. But the decision to design with HTML5, for most of us, will not based on what you prefer as an author, or even which technology is best, but will instead have to serve the demands of the marketplace, which is increasingly mobile.

Anonymous said...

I am a new ID. In fact, I'm still in grad school. I use Captivate 5 to create lesson objects. Does the program only publish as a flash file or are there other options? I know there is a box you can check to make it useable on mobile phones, but I don't know if that's generic or iPad or Android.

I also have Adobe Master Collection 5.5. Can anyone recommend another program(s) from that suite for creating cross-platform ready apps? Any suggestions from veteran IDs is greatly appreciated.

Steve said...

Is there any data to support the number of corporate, education, and government institutions that are truly making a commitment to buy mobile devices (read tablets) for their employees?

This whole push and "guarantee" that we are moving away from the desktop towards all mobile platforms seems vaguely familiar. Anyone remember the Ipaq craze a few years ago. Same promise. Surely the tech is much better now, but the challenge for real data still stands. If we can't support these assertions with data, I'll ask that we back WAY off of the "Flash is Dead" rhetoric. It's not healthy.

Moving to use the right technology for the right purpose benefits everyone. This is where the HTML5 argument holds A LOT of water. Flash is used for the wrong things too often. Let's talk about positive uses for the technology stack instead of jumping on this silly bandwagon that pits one technology against another -- largely because of ONE device (iOS).

Again, I'll issue this challenge: where's the data supporting widespread adoption by corporations, government institutions, and education? I'm not talking about the home user that wants to justify a relatively large investment in a piece of slate tech that under performs a PC for the same $$. I'm talking about real support numbers. Not what we want to see. Not what we dream about when we think of the potential... real. numbers.

The USAF recently conducted a study of military members. The results of this survey (I'll post here when I find a copy of it) overwhelmingly indicated that employees WOULD NOT use their own gear for agency training activities.

This doesn't even touch form factor - which I believe the iPhone is a little small and the iPad is a little on the large side for a performance support appliance. That's where I think the greatest benefit is for this tech. Just in time, just in the right place, task support.

I'm not anti-HTML5. I love the idea. But I am anti- those who are anti-Flash for no other reason than "someone else said so" and iDevices don't support it. It's silly.

Flash can be useful as an enhancement layer that targets the desktop for some purposes. Does that mean the underlying package, assembly, or container needs to require Flash? Nope. Does that mean the packages need to be different? Nope. Does that mean that 80%+ of a package with a Flash enhancement can be accessible via a portable device with enhanced practice activities available from a desktop? Yep. In my book, that's the best of all worlds. Something useful in one environment and extended in another.

Why can't we start thinking like that instead of in a mind space of ONE or THE OTHER?

Steve said...

More statistics. I know. Real numbers. What the heck am I thinking? :)

Taken from

Shows 3.21% of agents using Apple iOS.

Shows 34.3% of agents responding as IE with only 7.3% of this category HTML5 capable.

So, remind me. Why am I reading so much about "Flash being dead" and "HTML5 taking the lead"?

It's misleading and dishonest. It might not be next year. It might not be for some organizations. But, really, it's irresponsible for influential folks to ignore statistics and send those that don't research or think on their own down the wrong path (in the short term).

In the long term, I think HTML5 is the right way to go. In the short term (even through 2013 / 2014), HTML4 and enhancements that are available on more platforms is the better recommendation. And in the interests of NOT causing a panic and lemming shaped move of unseasoned developers towards a ledge that might not have a railing... don't recommend folks exclude Flash from their toolbox. It may well be that Flash is the best choice for some outputs!

How about a responsible and sensible article? I guess I'll write it myself ;)

Lara Berry said...

I'm not really that 100% sure that FLASH is dead since I still use now although I have to say that the HTML5 is really growing on me. Either way I agree with the HTML5 is still evolving.

Tony Karrer said...

This has been / is an awesome comment stream. Thanks for weighing in on this. Far better than I could have ever posted to give people varying opinions on this topic.

Are the numbers there to support the need to think about delivery in a world where Flash is not supported? In terms of stats - if you look at the numbers out there on mobile devices with Flash (Android) - it's a dismal percentage. Granted mobile represents some percentage of your audience - but its growing rapidly. The recent moves by Adobe tell us that its reached the tipping point. We can't ignore it and Apple has not blinked. Worse, the other mobile platforms have not jumped on it to force Apple's hand. And I actually don't know that Flash is right when the form factors vary so widely.

Of course, the real question is - can you exclude the users with no Flash running? Maybe you can today, but you can't for any length of time.

For those of you who are continuing to hang your hat on Flash with packaging to HTML 5, I don't think that's viable very long. How well did packaging of Director and Authorware work when we transitioned to web delivery?

A lot of people here are former Authorware and Director people. Anyone using those tools today?

I do agree with wanting consistent authoring that will work with playback across different devices. Steve - your point about it not being exactly the same is right on the money. The work being done in responsive UIs as well as the interface building tools are likely going to be were we see this come from. Some of the tool vendors are making big strides here as well.

But I still contend the framework won't be Flash.

Anonyrock said...

I developed in Director and Authorware before Flash. I am migrating to HTML5 before it is nearly feature-compatible with Flash. That was the state of Flash when I moved to it.

Perception shapes reality, not me, certainly not facts. Who did I learn that from? The master of reality distortion himself.

Tozer said...

I think the Flash vs HTML5 debate is rather benign in and of itself but does raise more serious debates.
1) When are we going to learn that content needs to be free from ANY format. The real issues should be around content architecture vs. delivery format - at least if your in instructional design.

2) If you don't buy into 1, ask yourself what are you going to do when HTML5 finally gets browser support and HTML6 is out and all the stuff you built using HTML5 now needs to be repurposed YET AGAIN.

3) Browsers support HTML/JQuery much more than they do HTML5. I can get alot more bang for my buck using HTML/Jquery than I can using HTML5. The big question is why have we let the vendors poison people into thinking HTML5 is the ONLY option for going mobile. HTML/Jquery will not only give you a level of interactivity today that HTML5 can't provide, but it will run in your desktop browsers also!

4) Why are we letting 'learning experts' dictate technology? Going back to #1 - shouldn't those of us who have an ISD background be talking content architecture? Isn't that the real issue given a web that wants to treat content as an api?

As a company steeped in XML and semantic web technology, the debate is completely trivial. I let the device dictate how it wants to deliver the content. I build in the intelligence layers and figure out how content needs to be streamed in all its variations. Making huge investments wrapping content in HTML5 is like wrapping it in Flash. Its going to die with the next big thing anyways.

Steve said...

@Tozer -

I think I get what you're saying. Just to be clear, you aren't saying Format is unimportant. Instead you're implying that presentation format should be decoupled, where possible, from content and content structure.

I do think format is important. Flexibility in format is preferable. I also think that most ISD types are consumers of tools. As stakeholders, should ISD have a hand in determining how content architectures work? Absolutely. In practice, how often does that happen? And when it does, are the right people talking? In my experience, not often and the results are mediocre.

You may be eluding to one issue that has bugged me as well. When we talk about instructional architecture, I'm not sure we're speaking the same language. There is work to do that I doubt will get done in aligning standard structures and practices for message encapsulation. DITA and similar technologies do a great job with topic level representation of task support data. But I don't think this goes far enough in capturing data level content definitions or the multitudes of contexts where it's not reasonable to expect it to accommodate the right level of definition (complex activities that require sophisticated technical assemblies).

For flat text, sure. For some media elements (video, audio), sure. For anything beyond that, it gets really soft, really fast.

So I get it. I'd love to see it. But I don't have faith that the industry will get their heads together to do anything but parrot the party line.

Tozer said...

You are correct. I am certainly not saying format is unimportant. Format is layer, and should ISD people be involved in how something looks...well I sit on the fence. I can argue one way or the other. But the important thing about format, is that it SHOULD be treated as a layer and not the development platform for content.
As someone that sat on the DITA for Learning technical subcommittee, I concur with everything your saying and could up the ante with some its shortcomings as well. That being said, at the very least DITA does provide an architecture for content relationships, not just its wrapping (a.k.a the 'tag').
I with some other folks created a markup language called 'sLML' available through sourceforge which was a response from my working with the DITA for Learning technical committee. The sLML download will give you the XSD and an SPS file for use with Altova's authentic free XML editor. At the end of the day though, as someone steeped in ISD, I created the architecture for content from a 'learning' perspective and my CTO created the necessary context for 'delivery'.
Do I think instructional designers at large are ready to sit down and discuss content NOt when they worry about HTML5 vs Flash and their education comes from the vendors saying HTML5 is THE ubiquitous mobile platform today (which it isn't), neglect talking about browser support issues and don't even discuss alternatives to HTML5 such as JQuery. We are an industry that accepts misinformation too easily and the great HTML5 vs Flash debate is best left in the hands like Tony who is technology focused and my CTO to debate. Not ISD people who cling to articulate cause its easy to use.

Steve said...

The comment IRT ISD's holding onto tools like Articulate because they are easy to use. I think that's definitely a big piece of the puzzle and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect folks to want to hold onto buoys that remove hassle (right or wrong, for better or worse). The alternatives are tools that aren't reliable, don't provide consistent outputs, or are beyond the skills of the user.

On the other end of the scale we have users. I believe *most* users don't care about format, file types, or whatever. They just want it to work reliably and meet their needs.

On the technical developer / producer axis - most folks just want the shortest and most reliable path to expected quality. Endless tweaking to hack around the fickle nature of one platform or another is something most folks want to avoid. Work has to get done.

There are probably other axis (management tiers, etc.) In my mind, these technology discussions -- especially when there isn't data other than speculation to support the real need -- pollute each axis.

Milo Dodds said...

Many years ago Flash killed both Lingo Programming and Adobe Director and now HTML5 kills Flash (seems almost fitting)...evolution...our needs/wants continue to evolve...years ago visual graphics artists switched from Flash over to the Processing Language...there are forces (requirements) that pull these technologies into almost opposing directions: ubiquity, simplicity and functionality.

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Unknown said...

Great comments, should we say, "RIP, flash? Hello HTML5?"