Authoring tool review: Articulate Storyline 2

At Kineo we've been using Articulate Storyline since its launch in 2012 with Storyline 2 swiftly following in 2014. With speculation that Articulate are to respond to the ever growing demand for responsive learning in their next release we thought we'd take a look back and see exactly what it is that makes this tool so appealing. Is it really as simple as it seems? 

An intuitive authoring tool 

Over the years I've had the pleasure of working with a whole range of off the shelf and custom authoring tools but Storyline, in particularly Storyline 2, has always been my go-to for fast and efficient results. Storyline 2 is definitely one of the most intuitive authoring tools out there. Whether an avid PowerPoint user or JavaScript enthusiast, you can jump on board easily. All you need is content and a creative outlook. So what is it that makes this tool so unique?
 

Usability 

There's nothing quite like a familiar face to put you at ease and Storyline 2 offers just that. You may not love the look and feel of Microsoft PowerPoint but we can all agree that we know our way around it. Having first developed Articulate Studio as a plugin for PowerPoint it seemed logical for Articulate’s standalone desktop tool to follow a similar format. 

But the recognisable interface isn’t the only thing that makes this tool incredibly easy to use. Clearly labelled ribbons and detachable panels for your layers and triggers are user friendly and allow each user to customise their view. The simplicity of the design mixed with the diverse range of pre-defined features give ‘non-programmers’ the ability to effortlessly add interactivity without the need for a degree in computer science. Select an object, tell it what you want it to do from an option in a list and voila, you have a button with functionality, built in seconds. The Format Painter is another smart tool for time saving; insert a shape, smarten it up then hit the Format Painter tool to copy that style across to your other shapes. 

If development isn’t quite your thing then don’t fear. Learning designers can get involved too. Once all your templates are defined you are pretty much good to go. Designers can easily take a blank template and script straight into it. Not only does this allow you to see your content in situ but it also streamlines the development process. 

Reuse your work 

Ever feel like you are doing to same thing over and over again? Well that shouldn't be the case with your Storyline 2 courses as you can easily upgrade your Storyline projects and import PowerPoints, Engages and Quizzes from Articulate Studio 09. Although these may need some tweaks to be in line with existing content, having the ability to re-use information provides a much smarter way of working. 

You can also download freebies from the Articulate website to help you further your designs. From snippets of code to new templates and handy graphics packs. The Articulate community known as the E-Learning Heroes is a must for all bookmark menus! 

Flexibility 

In terms of what you can do in Storyline 2 imagination really is the only barrier. The high level of diversity and flexibility on offer is a key selling point and it’s definitely had us coming back for more. Whether a beginner or an expert, interested in conventional learning and gamified elements, Storyline 2 provides a blank canvas to bring your ideas to life. 

So what exactly does it offer I hear you ask? The out of the box elements are varied and cover a range of requirements. Some of the key features include: 

  • Pre-built interactions such as Tabs or Timelines that come ready made with working buttons, text and images allowing you to update the content at a click of a button 
  • 25 pre-built question templates which can be used as knowledge checks or as part of an assessment to test understanding 
  • Record and edit simulations easily and add descriptive captions 
  • Import media including audio and video plus interactive swfs for Flash outputs only 
  • Ready-made illustrated and photographic character packs with different expressions and poses for quick building of scenario slides. 

But it doesn't stop there. As you become more familiar with the tool you can try your hand at more custom designs to build up your slides and add that spark to the learner journey. This is where the Freeform template can really come into its own as it provides the basis for bespoke questions or more complex interactions. It’s a great little feature that allows you to create virtually any template. Some further examples to take it up a notch might include but are most definitely not limited to: 

  • Variable based slide branching for scenario or risk assessment learning 
  • User personalisation via variables to create unique slides or certificates for learners 
  • Interactive videos with cue points and layer branching 
  • Question lives, timers and bonus points to spice up an assessment.

And don't forget the visuals. You don't need to spend money on costly editing tools when Storyline 2 offers you a great range of formatting options for images and shapes alike. Crop, adjust the colours or even add a border to make your slides come to life. Granted it won’t quite have the same level of flexibility as some of the design specific tools out there but it does a pretty good job at giving the basic editing tools. Not only that but you can also trim videos and audio within the tool itself making it a great all-rounder. 


Translations
 

When I hear the word translations I often feel a sudden sense of panic. The process can be tricky, long winded and often result in errors you never knew where possible. Extracting content, importing content, making sure it’s in the right place and all displaying correctly. It’s a minefield. Storyline’s answer to this follows its moto and keeps it simple. Export all your text with a click of a button, creating a convenient Word document with assets ID and text content. The Word output might look a bit scary at first and isn’t always presented in the most logical way but it does the trick. All you need to do now is send this out to your regions for translation and then import back into Storyline. 

If you know that translations are to be a part of your development process then you can prep as you build. Set long text boxes up with Scrolling Panels so that when the long translations go back in you don’t have to fiddle around with repositioning all the boxes. 

Collaboration 

Templates, templates, templates – one of my musts for all tools! Never start a build from scratch, you set yourself up for a circle of rework. Storyline 2 allows you create custom templates with some fixed essentials such as number of buttons, position of titles and instructions and then save them as a template pack, also known as .storytemplate. This file is an installation file that can be easily distributed to your colleagues within the office or on the other side of the world. It means that you’ll all be working off the same designs, creating consistency in every course you produce. You can also use your templates as a functional prototype. Publish them out and run them through a couple of devices to check that everything is functioning as it should. 

Handy tip: I always recommend creating each template with the maximum number of options you can fit within your design as it’s much easier to take elements away than add once you start building. 


Platforms 

So the learning has been created, tweaked to perfection and ready to publish. Now let's talk outputs. Storyline 2 publishes out to Flash and HTML 5 as well to the Articulate app. I'd be lying if I said we've had a smooth ride with Storyline publishing, but with ongoing updates and a few manual tweaks here and there, it feels like it's all falling into place. 

You can't fault the Flash publish, yes at times slides are little slow to load on larger courses, but overall, it's all there. The HTML5 publish has improved massively but still hits a few stumbling blocks. I've often found issues with the quality of the output with graphical assets and block colours appearing blurry or pixelated. On top of this page loading times can be painfully slow at times. Although disruptive to the learner experience it doesn’t stop the course working so I can’t complain too much. 


Support 

As we all know, nothing in life is perfect but Storyline 2 does a great job at ticking a lot of the boxes. And should you have a problem that baffles you beyond belief there is always the E-Learning Heroes website. This is by far one of the best online support systems I have seen for an off-the-shelf authoring tool and has a great mix of staff support and handy tips from fellow Storyline users. There is also a feature request system so if you feel like there is something missing from the tool you can put your thoughts forward to help shape future releases.  

Some room for improvement 

With so many diverse authoring tools on the market I imagine you might be feeling a bit lost about what is right for you. There is no tool out there that is perfect and Storyline 2 is no exception.

Multi-device learning is growing fast and with Storyline 2’s lack of responsive outputs it runs the risk of being left behind. The output does work on any device with the ability to run HTML 5, but the downside is that it simply shrinks the content to the screen size of the device rather than adapting the layout and structure of the content to maximise the user experience. Authoring tools such as Lectora and Adobe Captivate are racing ahead in the off-the-shelf market due to their ability to provide developers with responsive control options for their content.  

Another key frustration is simulation training. Although Storyline 2 provides the foundations for this type of course the editing features are not yet on par with the likes of Adobe Captivate. Basic screencasts and editable caption boxes provide simple and efficient walkthroughs but if you require more advanced interactions with a mixture of ‘show me’ demonstrations and ‘try me’ interactions then Captivate is a clear winner, providing a more robust and flexible platform for development.

Summary 

Storyline 2 is quite a nifty authoring tool and even with its quirks it remains high on my list of go to’s. It's simple, it's fast and it's effective. And if you really want to pack a punch and give your elearning an edge, then Storyline 2 gives you the tools and freedom for custom work. Storyline 2 really is an authoring tool that anyone can get to grips with, and I for one, am very excited about what future releases will bring! 

Take a look at the features in more detail or get in touch with Kineo, an authorised reseller of Articulate. Kineo offers support, art direction, templates, and authoring tool training.

 
 
Leave us your comments...

Erwin Browser | 2nd August, 2016

On screencast simulations, I thought Storyline has the three modes to show, try, and test to create different interactions. How is that different than Captivate?

Kelsie Scully | 17th August, 2016

Hi Erwin, I've spoken with Laurie and yes, you’re right. Storyline does offer the show me, try me and test me modes that are key to simulation training. The process for creating these is simple but in my opinion it’s still not quite as simple and customisable as Captivate. There isn’t the same flexibility on offer for editing the graphical elements of the captures and it’s a tad more fiddly to construct more complex scenarios but the core functionality is definitely there!