2020 will be here before you know it, so prepare your training for life without Flash, says Lee Wedgeworth.
By now you have heard the news that Adobe will discontinue distribution and support of its Flash media player by the end of calendar year 2020. For 20 years, Flash was the fundamental technology for web-based audio and video players too numerous to list.
As such, it is very likely a technology you have used in your own training materials featuring audio or video content.
So, how can you prepare for the impending death of Flash? First, take a moment to reflect on the good times you had with Flash and try not to focus on the loss. Flash was always there for you, but all things must end, and you have bigger things to worry about.
For example, do you need to toss all your training content and re-develop everything from scratch? Not necessarily. But before we explore how to keep your online training healthy and accessible through this important change, let’s look at how we got here and where we’re going.
How big Is the change?
It’s big. At one time it was estimated that nearly 75% of animation and video content found on the Internet was reliant on Flash technology to some extent. That number has decreased, but it’s still up there and high enough that regardless of the years of advanced notice, many will still be caught unaware when the final bell tolls.
First, take a moment to reflect on the good times you had with Flash and try not to focus on the loss.
Why Is Flash going away?
Back in 2010, Steve Jobs delivered ‘Thoughts on Flash’, a detailed depiction of Flash as a dying technology, and why Apple would not install or support the player on any iOS devices – most notably, iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, which were exploding in popularity at the time.
In the now-infamous memo, Jobs highlights aspects of the technology he considered harbingers of its demise, specifically: incompatibility with touchscreen devices, abysmal security, and the software’s reputation as a notorious resource hog, among others.
Further, in the context of innovation and technological liberty, Jobs cited the need to eliminate reliance on third-party software ‘coming between the platform and the developer’.
These were powerful assertions made in the midst of a burgeoning technical climate and regardless of whether Jobs was simply a prophet of Flash’s decline or its primary architect, his points were well made. In years since, Flash’s fate has been further sealed with ever-increasing mobile usage and the rise of more stable, scalable, and compatible media formats like HTML5.
New options, coupled with ongoing failure to address long-standing concerns simply proved too much to overcome. Ultimately, the fall of the once-mighty Flash empire came down to natural selection.
What will replace Flash?
New technologies are already in widespread use that do not rely on Flash. You’ve most likely heard it described as ‘HTML5’, an updated standard supporting a wide array of audio and video elements with broader browser support and accessibility across devices of all types.
In non-tech speak, it means the standard works everywhere on everything and can be tweaked by anyone to work where they want it to – sorry Adobe, we just want to set our web content free.
What does this mean for your training materials?
As mentioned, it’s very possible your company has legacy (aka ‘old’) content developed using Flash technology that has not been re-developed using an acceptable post-Flash format. Failing to convert that content prior to the discontinuation of Flash will result in that content no longer being accessible in modern browsers including desktop and mobile devices.
It’s simply not going to work anymore. That’s right, it’s not enough that Flash will bid its long-overdue farewell in 2020, it might drag your legacy courseware with it when it goes. Fortunately, there’s hope.
How can you keep your Flash-based content going for future generations?
The short answer is – you can’t, the content will need to be converted from Flash to HTML5. If you have the original files used to create the content and the software used during development, you may be able to simply re-export the content’s media to HTML5, then re-deploy the content.
Whatever approach you choose to address the situation, your priority should be preserving the impact your organisation’s training content has on performance well past the expiration of Flash and beyond.
Specific steps to accomplish this conversion depend on the development tool and you can find more information on your software vendor’s website or support knowledge base. Of course, you may encounter challenges if you don’t have access to the content source files or the technical expertise on staff to perform the necessary revisions and testing.
Opportunity to improve?
In order to avoid repeating this process just a few years down the road, you may discover a more thorough renovation of your courseware is warranted. Consider recreating content, refreshing messaging, and updating learning objectives.
This can be a great opportunity to enhance the overall learning experience while increasing the effectiveness of your training, especially for the younger workforce. Ask tough questions: ‘Is video really the best approach?’, ‘Are animations bringing any added results?’, ‘Do ‘M.A.S.H’ references still resonate with learners?’
Preservation is priority
Whatever approach you choose to address the situation, your priority should be preserving the impact your organisation’s training content has on performance well past the expiration of Flash and beyond. Let’s face it, all replacement formats will one day follow Flash’s long, slow march to the grave.
Such is the inevitability of technological advancement and we’re lucky to be part of it. Seriously.
But, learning is about the design and content, not the technology used to deliver it. Even if you choose to ignore these suggestions – reminders – warnings regarding the end of Flash, be sure the content survives! Don’t be like me, the guy who can’t enjoy his ’80’z Jamz’ mix tape because he can’t find a cassette player.
What happens if you’ve had the presence of mind to take the crucial step of preserving the content but…it’s in multiple formats including documents, videos, webinars, napkin drawings, etc? The fact is, YOU have the building blocks, but if you’re not a courseware developer, you’re up a creek without a cassette player.
Good news – more hope. Technologies are emerging for the specific desire to bring cherished content, whether on Beta Max or Laser DISC, into the future.
The death of Flash marks a milestone in browser advancement and courseware capabilities. Few technologies have enjoyed such dominance in the web space and perhaps none with such a tumultuous story. It’s likely to never happen again. Possible, but not likely.
While the discontinuation of Flash stands to complicate the plans and processes of training departments up to and beyond the actual go-dark date in 2020, these challenges are easily subverted with proper evaluation of existing content and a plan to realign curriculum with current strategic objectives.
It’s not often you get several years advance notice of such a change and the opportunity to react should not be overlooked.
About the author
Lee Wedgeworth is VP Learning Technology at Tortal Training