Training Media Review asked a panel of 33 training and education professionals to rate the authoring tools they have used regularly. The review summarizes the comments of the panelists who have used Flash.

Best uses

The panel's consensus is that Adobe's Flash is a primary choice for building instructional content that requires animation and interactivity. Flash's vector-based graphics and adjustable compression settings typically result in small file sizes that are well suited for web delivery. Noted as advantages were its compatibility with other development programs and flexibility to create a wide variety of instructional content, as well as the availability of Flash player on most user systems.

One reviewer expressed the consensus succinctly:

The universal compatibility of the SWF (Small Web Format) files Flash produces is the main reason this product is the cornerstone development application of e-learning product development departments around the world. Its flexibility allows for the creation of simple conceptual content for elementary school students up to advanced interactive simulations of complex processes to train commercial airline pilots.

Another panelist reported that Flash is "very flexible and is especially appropriate for content best presented via animation. The Flash player is now nearly ubiquitous on user machines."

Examples of other instructional development uses cited by our panel ranged from simple to complex:

  • "converting art or photos to other formats"
  • "pieces relying heavily on audio"
  • "simulations and labs, but more developer skill is required than with Director"
  • "pieces that rely heavily on database interaction, including surveys and tests"
  • "one-way communication to an audience that needs to interact, even via touch screen responses. Combine audio and video for professional authoring at a low price point."

Panelists agreed that in the hands of an experienced instructional developer, Flash can be used to create a wide range of content, but it is especially useful for producing content with animation and interactivity. One reviewer raved: "[Flash] can do just about everything."

Limits and drawbacks

Although Flash is powerful and flexible, most reviewers tended to agree that developing content in Flash isn't always the easiest or fastest solution. Learning Flash is difficult. And in order to be used to full potential, the application requires that the developer know the programming language ActionScript. Reviewers were united in their view that getting the most out of Flash requires time and experience.

Not all comments were encouraging in this regard. A panelist said, "Flash has versatility. If one has resources and time, it can be used to produce amazing things." Another warned, "Unless you have lots, and I mean lots, of experience with Flash, it is difficult to create anything that isn't one of its built-in Learning Interactions. It is a very complex tool that is hard to learn." Perhaps this comment says it best:

It's not the product's fault; it's the user's skills. The software requires a good deal of artistic talent. I outsource Flash work to someone with better graphic design skills than mine. Flash has a long learning curve, and requires knowledge of coding and scripting.

However, not all content created in Flash requires an experienced developer with a background in programming. Flash comes with a library of pre-built reusable objects and interactions. One reviewer said, "Fortunately, Flash comes with a series of built-in Learning Interactions that help new developers create effective and attractive interactive assessment content, including drag-and-drop, matching, and fill-in-the-blanks type quizzes and tests."

Panelists pointed out several types of content for which Flash may not be the wisest development choice:

  • "printed material, such as handouts and quizzes"
  • "DVD-based explorations"
  • "anything involving manipulation of objects in 3D"
  • "to convert motion video files to SWF format."
  • "[basic] drawing, navigation, and image enhancement"
  • "rapid e-learning, Flash takes too long to produce, and fewer people are competent in its use."

Many of our panel members also suggested that in some situations, other tools might be easier or more efficient to use.

  • "Photoshop, Fireworks, or Freehand are better products for artwork, complex imaging work, and navigation."
  • "Flash can be cumbersome when it comes to creating some content, such as recorded processes or simulations. I like to use Captivate to create a basic recording with audio, and then use Flash to enhance the content. Also, Flash attracts some users who want to create animated presentations that could be more easily produced with a presentation application like PowerPoint."
  • "Flash is commonly used for software simulation training. However, other tools are much easier to use and can output the content as Flash."

Ratings

Most reviewers agreed that Flash is a powerful program in the right hands and used for the right purposes. Flash's overall rating is slightly better than Good, which reflects the panel consensus that Flash is highly capable but not the easiest to learn. High ratings for Compatibility and Value for the Money indicate high user satisfaction with the product and the content it produces. Flash's steep learning curve contributed to the mediocre rating of Ease of Use.

Finally, once again, a former Macromedia product received low marks for documentation.