The era of Flash is coming to an end! If your organization has been building e-learning over the past decade or more, you likely have courses that were built in Flash or include Flash interactions or animations. Many browsers are phasing out Flash support, and Adobe is discontinuing support for Flash in 2020. Converting content from Flash to HTML5 is becoming an important task for many organizations to ensure that their courses don’t become outdated and lead to frustrating learning experiences for employees.
Whether you are converting just a few courses or a large library, making sure the scope is right can turn a potentially unwieldy effort into an efficient, manageable one. This undertaking is a great opportunity for L&D organizations and professionals to rethink, revise and reinvigorate their e-learning. When conversions go well, they:
- Maintain or improve training outcomes.
- Make the conversion as simple as possible.
- Make accurate predictions about costs, effort and timeline.
- Keep the costs under control and effort levels in line and deliver on the anticipated timeline.
To achieve those outcomes, it’s important to understand and integrate the goals and needs of business stakeholders, learning and development, and employees. Deliberations should start with the needs and goals of business stakeholders, but ultimately, balancing the needs of all three constituencies is imperative.
In the end, conversion decisions typically put a course on one of four paths: deciding not to convert the content, republishing it to a newer technology, rebuilding it using a newer technology or redesigning it from the ground up. Each path represents a different level of effort, cost and skill sets, so to establish and then protect the budget, effort levels and timeline, follow a consistent, repeatable decision-making framework. Following a consistent framework and using a common decision support tool will enable centralized or distributed decision-making, improve the odds that decisions are made predictably and consistently, and limit the likelihood of an outlier.
A decision framework like the one described below will often have a manual override, in which a senior leader or a small group of stakeholders leans in to challenge or change the decision about a course or series of courses. Listen to their input, and determine whether to push back, negotiate or acquiesce on a case-by-case basis. It’s an imperfect, but realistic, approach.
Path 1: Don’t Convert the Course
Presumably, the course originally served a worthy business purpose, performance need or learning outcome. The first decision to make is whether it still does so. Your understanding of your organization may make the answer obvious, but if things are murky, or you are unfamiliar with the history of the course, check in with the business stakeholders, subject matter experts or top performers to ask:
- Does the business purpose still exist?
- Does the performance need still exist?
- Do the knowledge or skill requirements still exist?
- Does the learning outcome still exist?
If the answer to all four questions is “no,” there is probably no reason to convert the course, so remove it from your list. If the answer is “yes” to one or more of the questions, follow one of the other paths.
A way to double-check your thinking is to review LMS course data. If the course has low or no recent registrations, it may confirm your decision not to convert the course. Consistent and ongoing registrations may automatically push you to one of the other paths.
Path 2: Republish the Course to a Newer Technology
You may be able to republish a course from Flash to HTML5 relatively quickly and easily. However, there are cases when it isn’t a viable option. Republishing a course is a good choice when:
- Source files are available.
- The course was built with an existing authoring tool (in other words, not an obsolete platform).
- The course was not custom-coded.
- You can map the existing structure of the course to templates in the new platform.
- Overall, the course content, instructional quality and outcomes are satisfactory.
Keep in mind that republishing is more than just publishing the course in a new technology. It involves reviewing the course, determining necessary small adjustments and making them, and fixing a variety of minor issues. There are varying levels of effort to republish a course:
- Low: The course has basic interactions, and most will function in the new technology.
- Medium: The course requires the re-creation of a few simple course elements.
- High: The course requires the re-creation of many course elements, or, when interactions are complex or video and/or audio that cannot be reused, it requires visual enhancements.
Path 3: Rebuild the Course in a Newer Technology
The decision to rebuild a course reflects a recognition that the effort needed to make the changes is more substantial than those needed to republish. Characteristics that may mean you are on the rebuild path include:
- Source files are not available.
- The course was programmed using obsolete software or was hand-coded in Flash.
- You can reuse many existing media assets, such as graphics, audio or images and have to re-create some.
- You need to make some content updates and minor changes to improve the instructional quality and outcomes of the course.
There are varying levels of effort to rebuild a course:
- Low: The course contains no audio or video, and it only needs simple updates to its content and design.
- Medium: The course requires moderately complex updates to its design and needs more interactivity; the course includes audio or video.
- High: The course has a complex design and requires significant redesign to convert it from Flash. It’s very close to the redesign path.
Path 4: Redesign the Course
When you need to make significant changes to achieve the performance or learning outcome or move the course to the new technology, or when the organization wants to use newer learning strategies, you should redesign the course should be redesigned. Poor course feedback, whether formal or informal, or evidence of poor knowledge transfer or acquisition may also indicate that redesign is the right way to go.
The level of effort to redesign a course is, in effect, the same level of effort it takes to develop a new e-learning course, so follow your estimating approach for new e-learning course development.
Ensure you have the right resources to support the different paths. Courses that are simply moving from an older technology to a newer technology (path 2) can often be assigned to resources with the necessary authoring tool skills. Courses that will be rebuilt or redesigned should be handled by a skilled instructional designer.
In many cases, courses built in Flash were designed with what researcher Will Thalheimer calls “seductive elements,” like music, animation, sound and other potentially distracting effects. Unless these elements are absolutely necessary for the instructional objective, they may have an adverse effect on learning and retention. The conversion process is an opportunity to improve the original design by:
- Revamping course templates to simplify and standardize interactions.
- Streamlining course content.
- Removing unnecessary design elements
- Introducing evidence-based strategies of challenging and spaced practice, reflection, feedback, etc.
The latest versions of many popular authoring platforms support conversion and provide a wide variety of tools, templates and types of interactions. Before selecting the platform you will use, carefully consider your design needs (e.g., complexity and types of interactions or assessment approaches) and delivery needs (e.g., mobile delivery).
Good upfront planning will help ensure your Flash conversion is efficient and manageable and achieves your goals. By using a repeatable decision-making process, you can increase the odds of making accurate predictions about cost and effort and creating an effective e-learning program.