Flash Is Dead! Long Live Flash for E-Learning!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The .swf file, the exported Flash object that plays in the Flash player in your browser, has been my friend for a long time. Indeed, I’ve been using Flash for my web e-learning projects since 1999. That was Flash version 3.0. Since then, I’ve programmed and built using Flash 3,4, 5, MX, MX 2004, 8, CS, CS2, CS3, CS4, CS5, CS6, CC, CC 2014 and now CC 2015. No doubt, I love Flash.

However, in 2010, an executive (from a company that shall remain nameless) beat up on my Flash. Some of the things he said were true, some statements were blown out of proportion, and other comments were flat-out lies. I quickly came to the defense of Flash because of my long-standing relationship with the tool.

HTML5 or Flash—Which One Has Wider Appeal?

For several years now, the rally cry at training conferences across the country has been clear: “HTML5 is where you should be!” “Convert everything to HTML 5!” “Move to HTML5. We hate Flash! Flash is DEAD!”

But I’m still getting paid to program in Flash. Today’s modern HTML5-compatible browsers are still compatible and can view Flash content just fine. Of course, mobile devices like tablets and smart phones cannot display the .swf file, because the Flash Player is not capable of running on those devices.

The Flash Player is resource heavy, and mobile devices are traditionally resource heavy. Consequently, to stay light and quick, these devices rely on small processers that slowly sip power in an effort to preserve battery life. Meanwhile, the Flash Player sucks memory, and resources from desktop computers and mobile devices just don’t have that much to spare.

But does that make Flash worthless? Sure, there are professionals who hate Flash—often because someone in IT can provide a laundry list of all the technical reasons why Flash is awful. For e-learning developers like me, however, Flash enables us to create complex interactivity beyond the scope of traditional authoring tools. In fact, I’ve found that Flash allows me to create custom content for customers who demand a certain “look and feel.”

So, if Flash content looks great and runs fine on my client’s computers, why should I run away from it as a development option?


What About M-Learning?

I know what you’re about to say. “But what about mobile!?! You can’t view Flash content on an iPad.” Yes, that’s true. So what?

In the last five years, I’ve only had one customer insist that the content I created work on mobile devices. One. Single. Client. Granted, many companies I work with have a may have a mobile learning strategy, but very few are implementing it. Issues connecting to and launching courses from an LMS using a mobile device has been a real impediment, and browsers capability to consistently display content is another issue.

Also, the evidence shoes that businesses are not yet investing in tablets for employees. Companies look at the power of a laptop versus a tablet device and buy the laptop—because of the advanced functionality. Although some companies are providing smart phones to employees, they rarely have the newest versions or largest screens.

In addition, many companies are offering BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, in which the employee can use their personal mobile devices in the office to connect to email and other corporate resources. But not many companies are ready to invest resources in developing—and maintaining—training programs that run on their employees’ personal devices. Instead, they ask: “Does training run on the company-provided laptops?”


Now, as a part of my initial consulting on any project, I ask whether there are plans to deliver training via mobile devices. Depending on their answer, I develop the program accordingly. One client in five years has requested it, and it was just this year.

Looking Forward

The noise in the e-learning space around HTML5 has been tremendous. And make no mistake, I’ve also honed my HTML5 chops. I can do some decent hand-coding, and I animate using HTML5 tools like Adobe EdgeAnimate to create content.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to capitalize on pure HTML5 authoring because, quite frankly, my clients aren’t asking for it.

Yes, there are companies moving their training programs in the HTML5 direction. But I will wait to make the complete switch when the browsers are consistently displaying HTML5 content and audio synching and complex animations/simulations work perfectly across all browsers. Until then, I’ll keep using Flash and exporting out of my authoring tools to Flash content—and provide my customers amazing e-learning projects.

Bottom line: Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. HTML5 not only has great potential, it’s cool. What’s more, I am sure that I’d be a much better HTML5 author and programmer if only my clients were asking for it. That isn’t to say, you should learn to program in HTML5. Indeed, you should—and keep that skill in your pocket with your other tools and use it when necessary.

For guidance on how to pair e-learning development tools with your own programming skills, check outTechnology for Trainers, 2nd Edition. This updated ATD Press book guides technology-hungry trainers through e-learning development, with brand-new chapters on mobile devices, learning management systems, and e-learning development software.

About the Author

Based in the Denver area, Thomas Toth is an e-learning developer with more than 20 years of training, management, and design experience. He is also the president of dWeb Studios, a web and e-learning design and development firm in Parker, Colorado. Toth has designed and programmed online training courses using Adobe products combined with modern authoring tools, and has personally created and maintained hundreds of individual e-learning courses for corporate clients around the world. He holds a BA in human communication and an MA in education with a focus on educational technology.

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