2013 is the year of HTML5… my team has been talking about it, eLearning gurus from around the world have been talking about it. What exactly will this mean, though, for eLearning development? This year’s Learning Solution’s Conference & Expo will be held from March 13-15, 2013 in Orlando, FL. Because I am going to be presenting the “Top Five Ways to Transition Away from Flash” at this conference, I have decided to delve deeper into the many aspects of development that the HTML5 evolution will affect.
Those of us that are involved in technology know that the rate of change is equivalent to dog years. Every year people’s demands change, and every year we are expected to provide solutions to these demands accordingly. Because of this, all of us need to be in a lifelong learning mode and accept that change is constant. Furthermore, we must acknowledge that things like browser compatibility issues and the psychological drama of having to relearn your craft are barriers that we must overcome time and time again…they will continue to be a challenge of our jobs. For programmers specifically, those people who are experts in Flash and do not rely on rapid development tools like Articulate, must make an incredibly strong effort to shift from Flash to HTML5.
So what specific challenges exist when making this transition? HTML5 sites won’t be the same as Flash sites, more importantly HTML5 may not exactly be an interface improvement. Furthermore this development will most likely be more expensive, but yet less elaborate. HTML5 is currently, still, a work in progress—browsers are interpreting this code differently, especially with video and audio. What happens to legacy content that has already been developed in Flash? How can you get your staff trained in learning the HTML5 language? My presentation this year will outline both the benefits and limitations of development in both HTML5 and plug-ins, how to identify three strategies for transitioning to mobile-friendly programming, how to analyze staff propensity to handle HTML5, and management methods to help transition staff away from Flash. While my session will focus mainly on the perspective of both a manager and a programmer point of view, I hope the session provides tips on how to make the jump for all managers, developers, designers, and other members of the development team. Sure, Web Courseworks has spent years refining our craft in Flash production—especially for games and simulations, but when the demand calls for tablet friendly eLearning, we must make the difficult transition along with everyone else.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Jillian Bichanich. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
Year after year, predictions are posted about what is to come in eLearning development. Experts use polls, percentages, and general trends to forecast what will happen in the upcoming year. I have been part of this group as in the past I have posted general eLearning predictions based on what I have learned in the industry. This year, I wanted to do something different. My team at Web Courseworks consists of programmers, instructional designers, project managers, a sales team, and management department, to name some, and who better to make predictions about 2013 than a team of people whose work delves into eLearning and its related topics every day? So here it is, 2013 eLearning predictions created by my team at Web Courseworks.
The Future of HTML5 and mLearning
To my surprise, everyone seemed to be dreaming about HTML5, though the topic of HTML5 brought predictions at all ends of the spectrum. A few people, such as Kelsey, one of our Multimedia Developers stated that “2013 will be the year that flash developers will need to learn HTML5 as eLearning takes a huge step further into the mobile scene,” and another Multimedia developer, Brian, further predicted that the because “HTML5 will continue to be on the forefront of eLearning,” this demand will drive the development of easy-to-use templates. Aileen, our Vice President of Business Development, agreed that “Online quick guides that are interactive and responsive to what the user is looking for on the job creates efficiency and maximizes learning beyond the classroom,” so these on-the-spot demands will increase the necessity for mobile and table accessibility.
As to the discussion of who will be most interested in mobile learning applications and benefit the most from mobile learning platforms, Karissa, one of our Marketing Coordinators believed that the adoption of mLearning will continue to “lag except in markets with specific on-the-job training use cases.” She said tablets are ideal for some very specialized use cases (such as on-the-job training for those in numerous healthcare professions), though while tablets are increasing in prevalence in the workplace, they haven’t yet gained widespread adoption. Shawn, an Instructional Designer on our team, went with only a slightly different position, as he believes that “Opportunities for new customers in health care, government compliance, and finance industries will explode” while “new customers in the defense, federal government and manufacturing/labor industries will all but disappear.”
Furthering the HTML5 and mLearning discussion, Matt, another PHP Programmer thinks that “HTML5 will start to change LMS UX to have more of an application feel rather than just a bunch of web pages strung together.” On the other hand, Ed, our Product Specialist, felt that instead of HTML5 affecting the user interface, instead “there will be much discussion regarding whether [HTML5] is really the best way to design apps for mobile devices.” He goes on to argue that this discussion alone will only go to help refine implementation processes, and that more “Tools and frameworks, such as PhoneGap, will also assist with bridging the areas that HTML5 stumbles on.”
Tin Can/Experience API’s Position in 2013
Tin Can/Experience API was another topic that brought some debate amongst the group. It seems that while our Product Innovation Specialist, Andy, believed that “More LMSs will integrate learning record stores for Experience API,” one of our programmers seemed to differ in opinion. Craig, a Web Courseworks PHP Programmer, believed that “Tin Can API will lose some of its luster in 2013 as the costs and difficulties of actually implementing it become more apparent.” Experience API has been at the forefront of a lot of 2012 discussion on the future of eLearning. I was interested to see the opposing views of the departments, and I will be even more interested to see if the demand will outweigh programming and maintenance costs.
Another hot topic of 2012, the future of MOOCs was a theme of discussion for the year 2013. For those of you who don’t know, MOOCs are “Massive open online courses” that have been developed and opened to the general public—for free. “Even if MOOCs turn out to be a transitional technology…the concept will contribute a lot to the body of research about the internet as a tool in education,” says Lisa, one of our LMS Support Specialists. Katie, an Assistant Project Manager, agreed that MOOCs would be “hugely popular and that even higher education facilities that are traditionally class-room based will move toward more online education.”
If more MOOCs are developed, what will that mean for the Instructional Designer? Well, Tim, an Instructional Designer here at Web Courseworks, believes that it will lead to an increased “need for large-scale instructional design as more universities, and other educational facilities will follow the examples of Harvard and MIT and start to create their own MOOCs”—that would make sense as commonly classroom-based courses will need to be converted to something accessible online. It may mean, that universities will have to outsource and/or hire more personnel—will this bring more business to eLearning development companies? We’ll find out.
The General Opinion for 2013
So what exactly did the team of Web Courseworks decide for the year 2013? A real certainty about one thing: that with Technology comes great unknowns, and that as demands for eLearning change, so will the products that make it happen.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Jillian Bichanich. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
As I’ve written before in my blog post “The Reports of Flash’s Death Are Slightly Exaggerated,” the decision to move away from Flash in favor of HTML5 is complex. Web Courseworks recently had to address the issue for a project for a regional electrical utility company. The project was originally developed over ten years ago for CD-ROM to educate middle school and high school students on renewable energy, but the company wanted to update the content and make it available on all web accessible devices.
In response to the company’s request to maintain a high level of graphical quality and interactivity on devices like the iPad, Web Courseworks was not able to rely solely on the traditional method of using Flash to create educational interactivities because of technology issues noted by Apple. In this instance, HTML5 became the development method of choice.
At Web Courseworks, we view the HTML5 standard as an opportunity to build our portfolio using a standard that continues to improve the tried-and-true HTML. Since completing the project, we sat down with Asia Comeau, Lead Developer at Web Courseworks, to get her take on the Flash vs. HTML5 debate.
What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of HTML5 over a plugin like Flash?
An advantage of HTML5 is that it is not an all or nothing situation. Using feature detection, we can create one template that serves the advanced HTML5 features to modern browsers and Flash-based media to older browsers. You can view it on an old browser and still get a similar experience as someone viewing it from a new browser.
HTML5 introduces the audio and video tags which allow us to include media that previously required a plugin such as Flash. However, if you want to create really rich audio experience using HTML5 audio, such as within a game, sound capabilities have not matured to the level of Flash or other game development environments. Also, Apple does not allow you to autoplay sounds on the iPad, so that is somewhat limiting. The supposed rationale is to limit data consumption. However, some have argued that it is an attempt to protect the App Store, which does allow for that capability.
With the recent explosion of device development, people can be viewing eLearning content on so many different devices; compatibility issues definitely come up. When we start any project, we ask the client to list their typical user’s environments so we can narrow the scope of development. There are now so many ways to access the web – tablets, mobile phones, desktop, game consoles, and all the different browsers – each environment we don’t support reduces development and testing time. What often hinders development in a project is not HTML’s technical limitations; it is budget considerations. For some clients, if the final product is accessible to 95% of devices, that’s plenty based on their need for accessibility.
HTML has the upper hand compared to Flash with regards to search optimization and accessibility. Content can be structured in a way that search engines and screen readers can easily interpret. There are methods you can use to improve SEO and accessibility in Flash programs, but it is not an innate capability like it is in HTML.
As a developer, what is most difficult about transition from development from Flash to HTML5?
Implementing the interface layout takes longer. With Flash, wherever you place an element is where it’s going to show up in every browser. With CSS, you need to test in every supported environment and the most basic layouts can show up differently from one browser to another.
One of the reasons that we’ve been staying with Flash for highly interactive games and simulations is that the HTML5 alternative, canvas, is not universally supported and it’s a challenge wherever frames per second matters. There’s only so much optimization you can do; at some point the browser will limit the performance.
If you are working on an HTML5, non-Flash project you have to include double the audio and video files because some browsers only play one codec or the other. It is not a technical limitation; it’s a licensing and money issue.
What steps should an eLearning manager take to address the HTML5 issue?
I see an eLearning Manager’s role as monitoring web development trends, keeping tabs on competitors’ development practices and allotting time for staff to do research in their fields of expertise to stay on pace with other developers.
What do you see happening with Flash and HTML5 in the future?
It would be ideal to have consistent browser support where everyone can easily develop programs that work on everyone’s machines. That would be ideal. There are many moving parts in web development. I look forward to seeing what will happen.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson, Karissa Schuchardt and Adelaide Blanchard. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
The Reports of Flash’s Death are Slightly Exaggerated: Implications for eLearning Managers
Over the last few weeks, Flash has been quite the technology water-cooler topic. Some people are predicting the end of Flash entirely with the looming promises of HTML5. Don’t forget to take into account where these reports are coming from. Many of the exaggerated claims of Flash’s uselessness come from pundits with an agenda and those talking about web site pages not eLearning initiatives. Adobe recently announced it will no longer develop the Flash Player for mobile devices. Does this mean Flash has seen its last day? Hardly. Well, at least not in the short-term.
If you read blog posts like that of Tony Karrer carefully, he calls the end of Flash “a long and slow death” and that we are years away from its ultimate demise. It’s true. Flash currently serves as a plug-in proprietary technology that allows for advanced functionality like interactivity and animation within the confines of HTML and its extensions. As noted in the timeline below, HTML5 isn’t projected to be fully developed until 2014 and global research agency Millward Brown reports figures that suggest Adobe’s Flash is available on 99% of desktops in mature markets. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
In recent years, smartphones and tablets have driven the craze to create a language that works on both desktops and smartphones. HTML5 provides this promise of an open standard with capabilities to create full games natively within the desktop or mobile browser without the need for Flash.
With all of this in mind, the decision to move away from Flash as a manager of eLearning is a complex one. If you’re concerned about what to do, here’s my take: Consider the market demand, company resources, and the technology’s functionality.
What bloggers have avoided in their rampant push for HTML5 is recognition of the corporate IT stranglehold on Internet standards. Corporate IT departments run very conservatively. Remember how long it took for corporate IT professionals to approve Flash? Many corporate desktop users’ computers are ruled by an iron fist and there will be slow migration to workplace browsers using HTML5. The majority of corporately controlled computers in use are using older versions of Internet Explorer and HTML 5 is not supported on Internet Explorer 6, 7, or 8.
eLearning is a dominant fixture in the corporate world. Since a lot of self-paced eLearning modules are created for viewing on a desktop, there is a lot of life left in Flash even without mobile device capabilities. For many compliance-type training courses, desktop delivery has proven to be most effective for their content and controversy over whether employees should be required to utilize their own mobile devices or tablets to complete training on their own time will keep it around for a while. Before making the jump to HTML5, consider how responsive your core client market is to the change and forecast impending demands for the future.
If you’re a manager like me, you’re working with employees who are Flash developers and you want that technology to live as long as it can while you’ve got that talent in your arsenal. Joab Jackson, author of “Adobe Flash vs. HTML5” quotes IDC software analyst Al Hilwa as saying, “The old adage goes, the best language to use is the language you know.” Flash developers are ubiquitous and the sheer number of them will ensure our teams create using Flash for at least the short term.
When it comes to eLearning, most of us are working with finite resources. Therefore, when looking at how long Flash will live, you have to determine how economical it is to make the switch HTML5. Don’t underestimate the initial costs of training programmers and converting legacy eLearning projects. Conversions take resources and will not be a priority in this economy unless driven by specific special projects like outfitting a board of directors with iPad compatible eLearning resources.
Most importantly, for those of us promoting engaging, interactive eLearning, current capabilities of HTML5 to recreate the interactivity of Flash, puts us back in the Internet Stone Age of 1995. While projections of its capabilities when it is completed in 2014 certainly provide more creative freedom for developers, it still pales in comparison to Flash capabilities as it exists today. In terms of interactive learning activities, it will be a while till HTML5 is a viable competitor with Flash in this regard. HTML5 is just not ready today as a tool to build interactive components like simulated communities, branching engines, and video game-like activities.
The good news is eLearning managers don’t need to make a decision on this today. As HTML5 is further developed, I believe the costs and benefits will become clear, especially to developers. Regardless, Samantha Amjadali quotes Adobe Evangelist Paul Burnett her article “Why the Web Needs HTML5” who says, “Flash will always sit alongside HTML in order to add more engagement than is available in HTML and CSS.” HTML5 will make things much more interesting for developers, but until it can outperform competing plug-in technologies, it won’t be able to replace Flash.
The Road to HTML5 – An excerpt from “Why the web needs HTML5” by Samantha Amjadali
For the first time, simple text documents can be linked to and accessed easily by anyone connected to the internet from anywhere in the world. Before this, only documents on the same computer could be linked to and access involved typing commands rather than simply pointing and clicking. Basic HTML also included the ability to add bullet lists, block quotes and pre-formatted text. A previous document access system, Gopher, was in existence at the time. It was far more rigid and hierarchical than HTML and remains in use by a small group of enthusiasts.
HTML+ (late 1991-94)
Tables are introduced, as is the ability to create questionnaires that can be filled in. Mathematical equations can now be created natively (though this feature is fully replaced in 1998). Large documents can be split into small modules to enable faster load times. HTML+ is later folded into HTML 3.
HTML 2 (1995)
Work on HTML 2 started long before HTML+. It combined HTML, HTML+ and various other tweaks in the intervening three years. HTML 2 marks the introduction of server side-image maps (allowing hotlinks to be created on images).
HTML 3.2 (January 1997)
The proprietary blink and marquee tags are dropped but other proprietary tags that are by now in common use are officially folded into standard HTML. Integration with style sheets (a separate, though allied, technology), which allow more efficient and complex module-based layout, are also brought into standard HTML for the first time and footnotes and forms are improved.
HTML 4 (December 1997)
Version 4 doesn’t bring many huge changes to HTML other than a number of browser-specific tags being made standard as well as support for other languages. Disability support is introduced, as is extended handling of scripting and reworked style sheets.
Work on HTML 5 started as far back as 2004 but it wasn’t known as that until 2007. Work on HTML5 is expected to be completed in 2014; however, as it’s being described by HTML5 editor Ian Hickson as a ”living standard”, even that target may be optimistic. HTML5 brings with it the ability to display audio and video natively within a browser without plug-ins as well as dynamic rendering of 2D shapes. It also features improved accessibility, security and forms.
Read what else Samantha Amjadali has to say in her article “Why the web needs HTML5” online.
Read what else Joab Jackson has to say in his article “Adobe Flash vs. HTML5” online.