Rapid Intake Flashform Review

 UPDATE: Since this original review I’ve spoken more with Rapid Intake and have changed some of my opinions. Read this review, then read the updated review.

On the surface, Rapid Intake Flashform looks like a very promising course authoring tool, but the reality simply does not live up to the promise. The Rapid Intake web site is slick, polished and well designed; it does a great job of promoting the products and drawing you in, but the product does not meet the lofty expectations set by the marketing hype. Kudos to the marketing department for a job well done, I wish I could say the same thing for the actual product. I don’t want to just bash Flashform, but I will say I was disappointed. It does have a lot of features and is certainly much cheaper than many other authoring tools. Flashform also rated well in the customer satisfaction survey I read.

Usability

Usability was the major stumbling block for me. Flashform is a very simple tool that suffers from poor interface design and usability issues. The UI doesn’t follow standard conventions – the buttons are split into two toolbars, one at the top of the screen the other at the bottom. Normal convention is to have toolbars and menus at the top of the screen, or in palettes that can be moved around.

Flashform is the right name for this product because that’s what it is – a Flash based application that uses form fields for creating courses. Flashform looks and feels like a Flash executable, which isn’t inherently bad, but in this case the implementation is lacking. For example, with most applications when I expand the application window to full screen I don’t expect all the interface elements to scale, I expect more screen real estate for my work area. Expand this browser window to full screen and the menus and toolbars stay the same size, but the viewing area gets bigger without scaling anything. Flashform scaled everything, like a Flash file does when you view it at full screen. It’s just odd for an application.

Other usability issues include:

  • For some changes Flashform does not prompt you to save unsaved changes when closing the file. For example, when adding a sound file it prompted me to save, but when I changed screen text it did not.
  • When publishing, there was no indication that publishing finished.
  • You must save projects in different directories or else published files will be overwritten. I had two project files saved in the same directory, so whenever I published or changed themes it overwrote the other project with no warning.
  • Switching between project files does not work. When I tried loading a second project it looked like it refreshed the screen and the title bar changed, but the content was from the fist file.

Features Review

By now, you’be probably got the idea that I don’t recommend this tool, so I’m not going to go into great detail on all the features and functions, I’ll give you the highlights.

Text Editing
Text editing is clunky at best. Issues I encountered included:

  • There is no undo and no spell checker. (This actually shocked me, undo is the most basic of functionality.)
  • Pressing CTRL+B inserts an unknown character, erasing the text. I expected bold text.
  • To make a bullet, you have to select the entire line of text, not just have your cursor in the line.
  • There is only one level of bullets, no sub-bullets. I tried adding sub-bullets in HTML code, but the player just ignored them.

Additionally, you cannot import content, although you can edit the XML. If you have some programming background, you can convert existing content to properly formatted XML and then use it to start a new course. That’s a work-around, but I consider it a plus. I like programs that let you into the source files.

Media
When adding media, files are copied to the project folder. That’s good. I don’t have to worry about moving files to the correct location before importing, which makes my unorganized file management a little easier.

When trying to link to an MP3 file I got the following error message:

A script in this movie is causing Flash Player 9 to run slowly. If it continues to run your computer may become unresponsive. Do you want to abort the script? [Yes] [No]

I clicked Yes to abort, but Flashform imported the audio and automatically included a basic player. There was no volume control on the player, which I think is required.

Adding images is straight forward, but there are very limited options for placement. You also can’t resize images, it chooses the size for you based on the screen type. Images must be sized to fit the place holder before you import. This is the only authoring tool I’ve seen that doesn’t allow you to resize images after they’ve been placed on a screen.

Futhermore, Flashform only supports JPG images. There is no support for GIF or PNG. Flash has great support for PNG files, so that surprised me. Also, I got above error when trying to link to an image, but it worked. I don’t like seeing error messages that mean nothing.

Themes and Course Structure
Flashform segments courses into topics which include pages. The fact that Flashform allows for Topics with pages is good. The table of contents can have multiple levels and you can move topics and pages around. It’s not always easy, but once you figure it out it becomes routine.

Flashform comes with a lot of stock themes that define the look and feel of a course. I changed the course theme, which changed one of my topics into a page, thus breaking the structure of my course. I used the Promote button to make it a topic again, but it stuck it at the bottom of the TOC. I was then unable to move the screens originally in the topic back into the topic. That was little frustrating. I eventually figured out that to get screens back into the topic I had to move the screens to the top level, then move them down, then demote them. Very odd. It should be drag and drop. This is Flash, so that shouldn’t be hard to manage.

PowerPoint Conversion
I tried the PowerPoint tools, and was completely unimpressed. It will convert PowerPoint to flash, but as a single SWF embedded in a page. I assumed it would convert the PPT file and create a page for each PowerPoint screen. You can also create a screen capture while the presentation is running, but I don’t really see the point of that. The capture software is basic, it just records whatever is on the screen as a movie, which it then converts to an SWF.

Quiz Tool
The quiz tool is pretty cumbersome, although I did get it to work. I created a quiz with two questions, but only the first question displayed when I previewed the course the first time. Amongst all the options on the quiz screen there is one that says “number of questions to display”. That is set to 1 by default, so as you add questions you have manually change the number. I also got a security warning from Flash about an unsafe operation when I clicked the “check answer” button. I didn’t think the quiz tool was very intuitive. It does have some options for tracking via an LMS, but I didn’t use an LMS to test the feature.

Summary

Flashform makes it easy to create a very basic course, or presentation, but you have to really plan things out and design specifically for this tool. I found reworking course structure cumbersome and changing themes problematic. I suppose if you storyboarded extensively this tool could work well, but I would be concerned about reworking course sequence or structure later on.

You are better off spending more money on a tool like Lectora or Outstart Trainer. For around the same price Articulate Presenter offers a more mature and easier to use tool. Bottom line, Flashform is not all it’s cracked up to be. The marketing department gets kudos for making this product sound really cool.

Now the disclaimer: This review is based on my experience with the trial version of Flashform. Based on the customer satisfaction survey I saw I assume other people have had a much better experience. Please feel free to comment and correct any misconceptions.

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15 Responses to Rapid Intake Flashform Review

  1. Jon Davies says:

    Hey, I just wanted to ask if you happen to get a free demo that they offer? They show you how to use the software from the begining and have really helpful reps that are willing to show you how to do some of the things so you don’t have some of the trouble you had. I have found it easy and simple to use. I am wondering how well you took advantage of all the help that the company offers which could be a reason why so many customers are happy with it since they proabably went through the demo and got tips.

  2. ghegenbart says:

    Jon,
    I did not go through the demo, and you make a very good point. Since I didn’t take advantage of the support the company offers, some of the issue (especially around changing themes, reorganizing the TOC, the quiz tool, and image resizing) might have been explained up front. However some of the usability issues would still exists because they are built into the interface. I just don’t think they did a good job of using Flash to build the front end of an authoring tool.

    Also, I think that if a product is marketed with phrases like “with having to…learn a complex authoring environment” and “simply filling out a form” then I should be able to jump right in without a lot of help or assistance.

    I’m glad you responded, because I think positive experiences need to shared. Thank you.

  3. kingmarsh says:

    Flashform now is on my “to check out “list. See if I can get around to it.
    Personally, I prefer a much easy to use tool like PPT2Flash Professional.
    http://www.sameshow.com/powerpoint-to-flash-pro.html
    It is a PowerPoint-based eLearning course builder. It has some similar features like Flashform: PowerPoint conversion, multimedia, course template, SCORM/AICC compliance. But the interface is much mor intuitive and features are easier to undertand.

  4. Garin Hess says:

    Gary,
    Thanks for reviewing Flashform. It has been helpful to read your experience. We are currently in the process of redesigning our interface to be even more user friendly than it is and your comments here help.

    A couple of questions for clarification: Was it version 2.2 you reviewed (the latest version just released)? Also, was it the Standard Edition or Professional Edition?

    To respond to your review:

    We’ve found that as our audience grows wider, people either find it intuitive or have a hard time with it. We’ve had feedback from both ends of the spectrum. Most are able to get going very quickly and give us raves on usability, but some get stuck right off the bat. Regardless, most of our users learn how to use Flashform within a few hours, and some have reported posting new courses to their LMS within a day or two of downloading, saving them weeks and months of time.

    We created Flashform out of a desire to create a tool that does not limit instructional design, but also enables users to cut down development time dramatically. Many other tools tend to place instructional limitations on the design, converting a PowerPoint being chief among them. And while Flashform doesn’t do everything ‘out of the box’, we designed it to be extensible with Flash so that it can accommodate all kinds of instructional approaches.

    One example of that is Soft Skill Simulation. The ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ instructional design pattern has been around for a while for creating branching case studies, but it is often too difficult to build for the novice developer. But with Flashform, anyone can quickly learn to build these kinds of simulations. (See http://www.rapidintake.com/flashform_templates_softskillsim.htm)

    PowerPoint to Flash conversion is not Flashform’s strongest feature. It’s functional and can be very fast, but Flashform’s purpose is not to create online presentations. It’s in moving beyond “telling as training” where Flashform’s best colors come out, and will continue to shine as we and other Flashform users develop additional ‘add-on’ templates that extend its capabilities.

    Your readers may want to read a feature article in eLearning Magazine published this summer where University College of Dublin describes how it uses Flashform (formerly called Flash Companion…we changed its name in August 2006) to meet its e-learning needs. (See http://elearning.b2bmediaco.com/issues/summer07/summer07_featuredstory_3.html)

    All of that said, we recognize that we have significant room for improvement and we are working on that. So again, thank you for your review and comments about the limitations you personally experienced. Though the review did not include some of Flashform’s best features, it does address the usability limitations that some of our users experience right out of the box. And while those can be easily overcome with some interaction with our product specialists or tutorials on our website, I agree that it needs to be even easier to use.

    Garin Hess | CEO
    Rapid Intake – Publisher of Flashform
    http://www.rapidintake.com

  5. Thanks Garin,
    I’m impressed that you took the time to respond personally and appreciate you candor. I will certainly read the article you mention. To be honest, based on the research I’d done, I was surprised I had such a hard time with Flashform.

    I was using Standard Edition 2.1, so some of the issues could have been resolved. I probably should have mentioned that in the review, and will make a note of it for future reviews.

    I’d be happy to look at the new version and specific features you feel are strong and add value to your product. Any company that takes time to read the review and reply without the typical marketing lines is worth another look. I particularly like your “desire to create a tool that does not limit instructional design”. Based on my experience, I believe that to be true. I just had a hard time with the interface.

    Thanks again.

  6. Kingmarsh’s comment slipped by me. I have seen PPT2Flash and will be reviewing shortly, possibly next week. I’m trying to show a variety of tools and wanted to get in a couple of course authoring tool reviews.

  7. Ben Wallerstein says:

    I have been using Flash Form for over a month now. I have the premium package that allows the developer to change the themes by accessesing the FLA’s. The more I use this software the more I realize how useless it is. If you have no background in flash and want to put to gether a few slides, I could see using this product. But for professionals, this is a useless memory hog that runs like a fat kid in gym class. This product is required by our customer, but definitly does not save our company time. Building a flash presentation in flash is easier and takes less time.

  8. Garin Hess offered to demo FlashForm for me and show me some of the key features. Due to his and my schedules, that demo won’t happen until then end of the month. After I go through the demo I’ll write another post about the experience.

    Ben – Thanks for sharing your experience. I appreciate comments, good and bad, regarding my posts or the products, but please refrain from the off-color analogies; I was the fat kid in gym class.

    Gary

  9. Pingback: Rapid Intake Flashform, Part 2 « eLearning Development News

  10. Dan Kazup says:

    Gary,
    I enjoyed your review of FlashForm and agree with you on a few points. As a disclaimor I used to wor for Rapid Intake and have used FlashForm since it first came out several years ago.

    Not having some of the features you mentioned has been an adjustment, such as the undo feature and the bullet capability. However one thing that I’ve appreciated is that nearlly all of the course information is contained within a single xml file. If I have my base install of Flashform and a backup of that xml file I can recreate my course, in the event that I’ve screwed something up.

    What I appreciate more then anything about FlashForm is the new approach to course design. Show me a “professionally” create course that isn’t fragmented into pieces and parts with extensive use of actionscript. Using FlashFrom has changed our way of thinking about course design in several ways, first the course theme’s that came with the product, well we trashed those and instead built the default theme to that of our corporate standard. Then the themes structured was used to house the specific look-n-feel for each line of business. Now if I need to create a course for a specific line-of-business I’m half way there.

    THe single XML file structure has allowed us to create several add-ins for word and ppt that allow us to quickly move from one medium to another. In several cases I can move from a storyboard to a stick structure in under 5 minutes. Do it need polishing, sure. Will any course be completely template based? Nope I don’t belive so, I shoot for the hybrid type of course.

    I also appreciate the ability to quickly show my clients working prototypes of a course. I’ve found that by moving faster to a prototype stage I’m cutting down on the review time and the change control, not to mention the QA time. Since courses have a template base each time I preview a course its like doing a mini QA cycle. Find a problem, resolve it and then push it out to other courses.

    FlashForm has also pushed my Flash and Actionscript knowledge which I believe has made me a better course designer and asset to my employer.

    Flashform has a unique approach and like all products can be improved. What I appreciate the most the the course design aspect that is underneath the hood of Flashform. Its a shift in course design thinking. SImilar products are in the market the key for me is having a product that I can customize and bend to my specific requirements.

    Lastly, I’ll just mention that another aspect I look for is a tool that will work in a team environment. One in which I may create a feature, functionality or capability and then be able to share that generically with the rest of my team….or better yet to other outside my team who may have less technical capability then I have. I look at that as similar to building a flash component that does some cool thing. I can pass it around and others can use it as long as they understand its input requirements and output capability.

    Its definetly in the catagory of products in which you shouldn’t jump right in and expect fireworks, but a long lasting relationship that will continue to evolve and grow as your capability and requirements change.

    I also like not having to be tied to a vendor release schedule for new features.

    Anyways, I’m probably a little tilted in my view but throw everything out that I said about the product directly and think about the power of compartmentalized course development!

    Dan

  11. Dan,
    Thanks for the comments. It sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time with Flashform and made it fit your needs. Since this review I’ve spent some time talking with Garin Hess and have new appreciation for Flashform. I posted an update today that echoes a lot of what you said.
    Take a look at the new posting – Flashform, Part 2

  12. Susan Paul says:

    I have been a user of Flashform for several years — even back when it was called Flash Companion. I really like the product and use it for all of my elearning development. I basically develop my content in individual Flash swfs and use the Flashform interface to integrate them into a lesson. I don’t believe that PowerPoint to e-learning conversions provides a very good experience for your learners, so I don’t use that feature. Most of my content is too complex/animated for the static pages, which is why I develop mostly in Flash, but the various page templates are pretty good for developing something quickly. And you can easily mix and match the templates pages with Flash swfs that you develop yourself.

    There are two key features of Rapid Intake and Flashform that add value for me: the user interface and navigation infrastructure, and the support provided by Rapid Intake.

    I really like the infrastructure provided by Flashform, such as the index, navigation, glossary, and narration area. The user interface and infrastructure are fully customizable — if you know Flash just a little, you can do pretty much anything you want with the interface. After you customize the product once, it is very quick and easy to change the user interface to look any way you want it to — you are limited only by your ability to design graphics for the interface!

    The support that I have received from Rapid Intake over the last three years has been outstanding! Their support people are very knowledgeable and are very concerned with making sure that your project is successful. I am an instructional designer, and don’t have much knowledge of how LMS’s work and how to set up software on the server side. Rapid Intake has pretty much made this painless for me with the ease of use of their products and their support.

    I do agree that parts of the Flashform interface can be somewhat cumbersome; however, Rapid Intake is good about listening to the comments of their users and making positive changes to their product. I use the quiz function and have mixed feelings about it — there is a lot of built-in functionality that saves time and provides a fairly robust selection of interactions, but I do agree that the quiz interface can be frustrating. However, once you learn how to work with it, you can develop a fairly complex quiz in a short time. Some improvements have been made to the quiz interface, but I agree that more improvements need to be made in that particular area.

    I really like the fact that Flashform gives you a range of options — you can use the templates and develop a basic elearning course very quickly, or if you know Flash, you can have full control and totally customize both the user interface and the content. You can also use the templates as a storyboarding and/or rapid prototyping tool. I agree that this product is not as mature as some that have been around longer, but the product certainly meets my needs and I feel that Rapid Intake will be constantly improving the product until it does reach the level of maturity of some other products that you mentioned. I just hope the price does not reach the same level! 🙂

  13. Susan,
    Thanks for taking the time to talk candidly about your experience. If you haven’t already done so, please take a look at my newer post on Flashform. I reviewed the standard edition in this review, and have since talked with the folks at Rapid Intake. My second look at Flashform was a more positive experience.
    Gary

  14. Dan Kazup says:

    Gary,

    I did read the second post afterwards and agreed with your observations. While I like Flashform what I really am energized by is the design process and how this tool unlike others I’ve used has given me the ability to expand my design capabilities.

    Thats a hard feature to document, discuss, and calculate the value of.

  15. Pingback: E-Learning Course Builder | 7Wins.eu

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