I was teaching Adobe Captivate recently when a student asked a few questions about the value of a playbar that fueled an interesting and heated, discussion (some folks love playbars, others hate them). Here are the questions that got the debate rolling:
- Is the playbar necessary?
- If a playbar is included, how can you encourage learners to interact with screen objects instead of skipping them using the playbar navigation controls?
- Where is the best place to position the playbar (top, bottom, left, or right of the lesson)?
All of the top eLearning development tools (Articulate Storyline, Articulate Presenter, Adobe Captivate, Adobe Presenter, and TechSmith Camtasia Studio) allow you to control the appearance of the playbar. In addition, each of the tools can accomplish the suggestions outlined below. In some instances, the option I discuss isn't easy to find in a particular tool. If you have trouble locating the playbar options, feel free to contact me.
Is the Playbar Necessary?
Should you include a playbar in your eLearning lessons? In my opinion, absolutely! If you've created a video like those commonly posted on YouTube or Lynda.com, there isn't any interactivity. The only way learners can navigate through a video is via the Play, Rewind, and Pause tools found on a typical playbar. While a video's playbar doesn't offer much in the way of learner engagement, at least it's something. In my experience, videos without playbars are ineffective. The lack of a playbar can be disconcerting if not flat-out annoying.
How Can You Encourage Interaction With Screen Objects?
If your eLearning lesson is interactive (perhaps it's a software simulation with a quiz, or a soft skills lesson with buttons for navigation), the learner who navigates via the playbar instead of the interactive slide objects can derail the lesson. For example, you've created a button on a slide that, when clicked, reports a score to your Learning Management System (LMS). If the learner clicks the forward button on the playbar, not the interactive button on the slide, no score is reported to the LMS. As far as the LMS is concerned, the learner skipped the slide.
How can you encourage the learner to interact with the slide objects and not simply race through the lesson by clicking the forward button on the playbar?
- Add an animation in combination with an interactive slide object.
- In one of my projects, I inserted an arrow animation that pointed to the buttons on the first several slides (not all of them, since I was worried about the animation being a distraction). While short and sweet, the animation was enough of a visual cue that very few people missed the opportunity to click the buttons.
- Hide the playbar for the entire lesson by default, but have it automatically appear when the learner mouses over the screen.
- Hide the playbar on any slides where clicking an interactive object is critical.
Playbars and Quizzes...
If you've included a quiz in your lesson, most of the eLearning development tools require the learner to answer the question and submit before it is recorded and graded. If the learner answers a question correctly but clicks the forward button on the playbar instead of a Submit button on the slide, the LMS will likely treat the question as unanswered. In this instance, the learner will not get credit, even though the question was answered correctly.
In this scenario, you can set up your lesson so that the playbar will disappear when the learner is taking the quiz but reappear on non-quiz slides. Most eLearning development tools offer a "hide playbar during the quiz" feature. (For example, in Adobe Captivate, it's a simple check box found on the Quiz Preferences dialog box.)
What Is The Best Screen Position for the Playbar?
If you elect to include the playbar, where is the best place to position it? The most common location for the playbar is below the video or simulation. In my experience, this position works the best since the majority of your learners are conditioned to look there first. The biggest problem with the bottom-position occurs when the video is very tall. In this case, many of your learners won't know there's a playbar at all since they'd need to scroll down. In this scenario, positioning the playbar at the top of the lesson would be ideal.
I'd love to hear if you think playbars belong in eLearning or not. I'd also like to know where you place them and how you encourage users to avoid the playbar when screen interactivity is critical. Please post your comments below.