iSpring Suite 9.7 review

More than 7 years ago, one of my customers asked me to organize an e-learning authoring workshop. The purpose was to empower the team leaders of people working on an assembly line to create short e-learning courses about very hands-on subjects. Their IT department recently had purchased iSpring licenses, so that was the tool to use for the development.
I was truly impressed that at the end of the day, “e-learning newbies” walked out of the class with a course that was ready for production.
So, after all those years, I was happy to get the opportunity to evaluate the latest version, iSpring Suite 9.7

Concept

iSpring Suite is not a stand-alone authoring tool: it uses Microsoft PowerPoint and adds tons of typical “e-learning” features to it. Simply calling it a “PowerPoint add-on” would not do it much right: it is a true “suite” because after installation you get several different applications. Some of them can be used independently, but the main activity will still happen in PowerPoint.

iSpring Suite applications

Some experienced e-learning developers might see the tight integration with PowerPoint as a disadvantage, because it limits the canvas, and you are tempted to create “slide based” content (sequential page turners), but on the other hand, it empowers people with less e-learning authoring experience to produce interactive content in no time.

In times where information is rapidly changing and content production needs to be “just in time”, the fact that any subject matter expert with good PowerPoint skills can easily produce course content is a huge advantage.

Installation

iSpring is only available for Windows (Windows 7 or higher, PowerPoint 2007 or higher), so unfortunately not on MacOS. Pricing is very reasonable and is a yearly fee per user.

“There is nothing I can’t do with PowerPoint”

The feature set of the latest versions of PowerPoint is so rich that it is maybe hard to imagine that there is something that PowerPoint can NOT do. Still iSpring manages to add several features that make the production of professional e-learning content much easier:

Content Library: an extensive library of backgrounds, cut-out characters, icons, templates complement the existing PowerPoint clip art

Content Library

Quiz: iSpring Quizmaker has a really impressive feature set with multiple question templates, question pooling, branching, flexible feedback and scoring options… It is good to know that you can also use it independently of PowerPoint and publish your quiz to SCORM or another learning standard. The output is fully responsive, so ideal for a quick mobile assessment or a survey.

iSpring Quizmaker question templates

Enhanced audio/video recording: you can already record narrations with PowerPoint, but iSpring brings it to the next level with a microphone setup wizard, noise reduction, webcam recording and an Audio-Video editor that makes post-processing of your narration much easier. iSpring Cam Pro records your screen and/or your webcam and can produce stand-alone recordings that can be published directly to YouTube.

Interactions: iSpring Visual lets you select one of the 14 different interactions. They are especially useful if you want to break the “page flipping” and engage your learner with a “do it yourself” activity.
If you would prefer using an external tool, you can use the “Web Object” to integrate a web site or an embed code easily in your presentation.

Interaction types

Dialogs: iSpring Talkmaster is a conversation simulation editor. It allows you to script a dialog with complex branching scenarios; it can be very useful in courses on communication, negotiation skills, sales pitches…

Output (publishing)

When your course is ready, you can publish it directly from PowerPoint in multiple outputs:

  • Local file (html5 or video)
  • iSpring Cloud or iSpring Learn (the iSpring LMS solution)
  • LMS (SCORM 1.2, 2004, AICC, xAPI or cmi5)
  • Youtube

Because the output is based on PowerPoint, the rendering on mobile devices is an attention point. PowerPoint slides simply scale to the size of the screen and are not truly responsive, unlike the “iSpring content” like quizzes and interactions, which are adapted on mobile.

In the SCORM output (which is still probably the most popular output), the completion and scoring options can be adapted, which is a real plus to get the correct tracking information in your LMS. You rarely find these options in other authoring tools.
When published, the course is embedded in a player (navigation, resources, course outline…) that can be customized with author information, a custom logo…

What else?

iSpring Flip deserves a special mention, as I have been looking for a long time for a tool that can easily create a SCORM package from a Word or Pdf document. My quest is over, this is exactly what it does: you open your Word, PDF or PowerPoint, publish as stand-alone HTML or as a (SCORM or others) package to your LMS.
When published to an LMS, it tracks the progress of the learner in the book. Unfortunately, it does not seem to track the time spent but hey, you can’t have it all.
iSpring Cloud is a small hosting solution that allows you to publish your course online if you don’t have an LMS (or just want to make your content public).

Conclusion

iSpring Suite 9.7 turns PowerPoint into a very powerful desktop authoring tool. It is the ideal toolset for trainers, subject matter experts, product specialists… to add the necessary interactivity to their already existing material and produce standards-compliant courses that can easily be published online or integrated into any LMS, without a steep learning curve.

More info

Share

What if Captivate 6 or 7 sends zero-scores to your LMS?

Recently, we ran into an issue with a piece of Captivate 6 content in our LMS. Although the content did not contain any quizzes, the content sent a score of 0 to the LMS, messing up the reporting.

We had a look at the reporting settings in Captivate, these were the settings used:

captivate quiz

If you use these settings, the content communicates the following to your LMS:

[2013-06-16 09:15:49] LMSSetValue(“cmi.core.score.raw”, “0”)
[2013-06-16 09:15:49] LMSSetValue(“cmi.core.score.max”, “0”)
[2013-06-16 09:15:49] LMSSetValue(“cmi.core.score.min”, “0”)

Strangely enough, the solution is very simple: under Data to Report, you change the option Quiz Score to Percentage. This stops sending cmi.core.score values to the LMS. You would expect that this setting has no importance because you specified that you do not want to track the Quiz, but it does make a difference.

quiz data

I have noticed exactly the same behaviour in Captivate 7.

Share

Adobe Captivate and the ADL SCORM Test Suite 1.2.7

Today, I have been struggeling with a SCORM 1.2 conformance test of an Adobe Captivate package. Let me share my experience to avoid that others have the same painful experience.

The mission

The purpose is to test an Adobe Captivate 4 SCORM package (SCORM 1.2) with the ADL Test Suite 1.2.7, and prove it is fully SCORM compliant.

The issues

When you load the scorm package in the ADL Test Suite and you run the Content Package Conformance Test, there are two issues:

  1. the metadata test passes successfully, but when you need to launch the SCO, the Captivate content does not load. IE shows a script error:
    Error: ‘document.getElementById(…)’ is null or not an object
  2. if you get the first issue fixed, the SCO launches but test fails with at least one of the following messages:
     ERROR:   LMS Not initialized
     ERROR:   SCO invoked API calls out of order
     ERROR:   LMS not initialized
     ERROR:   Invalid LMSFinish() call
     ERROR:   SCO invoked API calls out of order

The solutions

It took me quite some surfing to find the following solutions:

  • The ADL 1.2.7 test suite software is already quite old, and a lot of forum posts suggested that you needed to use the correct Java RTE, older browsers… I tried all that, but it never helped me. I now have the test suite running on a Windows 7 64 bit (!) , with the latest Java RTE (Version 6 update 15, build 1.6.0_15-b03), and IE 8. So don’t spend your time on this.
  • And now for fix number one: to make sure that your SCO gets launched in the test suite, you need to edit the html file that is generated by Captivate when publishing your content (the .html that has the same name as your project .swf). Open the file with a text editor (Notepad), on the second line you will find <!– saved from url=(0013)about:internet –>. Delete that line.
    Restart your test, and your SCO will now launch. But you will get errors in your test now.
  • Fix number two: change the security settings of the Flash player on your machine.
    • Get some Flash content playing in your browser. Any Flash animation will do. Go e.g. to www.adobe.com.
    • Right-click on the animation, you will get the Flash context menu. Select Settings.
    • You will get a little menu like this:
      flash settings
    • Click the Advanced button. This will bring you to an Adobe Web site.
    • In the table of contents on the left, click Global Security Settings Panel. This will show you a panel like this:
      trusted locations
    • Add the location where your ADL TestSuite software is installed to the trusted locations. The location of the TEST SUITE software, not the location of your zip file or your content files. Those get copied automatically to a TestSuite subfolder when you run the test.
    • Close all your browser windows and re-run the test.

Explanation and credits

There is probably a very good explanation why you need to do all this, but I am not able to give it to you. I’m just summarizing some steps I found in various forum posts. So kudos go to these forum members:

http://forums.adobe.com/thread/212606

http://forums.adobe.com/thread/440917

Bottom line?

A lot of forum posters are yelling that Captivate content does not pass the SCORM test. Before I ran my package through the Test Suite, I tried importing it in three different LMS’s, and it worked in all three! So failing the ADL Test has more to do with the way the Test Suite runs local content than with Captivate content not being SCORM compliant.

Share

Adobe Captivate and SharePoint Learning Kit

The SharePoint Learning Kit is a lightweight LMS module that can make your SharePoint site a mini-LMS. Especially together with Windows SharePoint Services, it is a very cost-effective way to distribute e-learning content in your organisation with a minimum of “tracking”.

Of course, you do not get the very detailed reporting a true Learning Management System offers, but you can track progress (not attempted, in progress, completed), track score of a test, assign learning content to users or usergroups, and grade tests manually. Your content needs to be SCORM-conformant, as the SLK uses the SCORM API for communication between content and LMS.

The SharePoint Learning Kit is a feature that needs to be deployed on your farm, assigned to a web application, and gives you a feature that you can activate on a site level. It includes an “assignment” web part that instructors and learners use to assign, follow and grade content.

I had some trouble getting Adobe Captivate content to communicate with the SLK, I did not get the scores from a test. Finally, I found this article. In the .HTM file that is generated by Captivate, you can tune and tweak some scorm parameters. Changing var g_intAPIOrder = 0; from 0 to 1 does the trick for the SLK.

Share

Microsoft introduces “learning snacks”

To promote their new Windows 2008 server, Microsoft announces the availability of learning snacks. A learning snack is a short module that illustrates one specific topic or learning objective. Of course, Microsoft uses Silverlight as the underlying technology.

Have a look yourself on the Windows 2008 learning portal (click the Learning Snacks tab). Microsoft uses very simple, but effective interactions: mouse-overs, software demonstrations, click-to-reveal-more, …

What I like about it:

  • simple but very nice layout
  • good performance
  • easy to navigate interface

What I do not like about it:

  • voice-over quality is not consistent: sometimes good, sometimes very bad;
  • it does not work on my Mac. There is a Silverlight version for Mac, but the learning snack player does not seem to load the content, not in Safari, not in Firefox;
  • clicking on some of the links is blocked by the IE popup blocker (althoug it seems to be a simple hyperlink)

Still a great initiative. Wouldn’t it be nice if this Silverlight player could load SCORM manifests? What if Microsoft made it freely available? Wouldn’t that be a great promotion for Silverlight?

Share