Should we use Flash in education?

Last week I took part in an e-learning stuff podcast on the future of which we discussed in light of the fact that the Apple iPhone and Ipad doesn’t do flash, should we stop using it when creating educational content.

So should we stop using Flash when creating content – or do we keep using it, knowing that some people will have devices that won’t be able to access the content?

When I worked at a University; for the ‘e-learning courses’ – (the ones that were delivered entirely online) when a learner inquired and before they enrolled they were given a minimum specification in terms of what they would need on their computers in order to be able to do the course – and this idea I liked – it then made it easy to create content and check it against this specification, and then be safe in the knowledge that everything will work as desired.

So this could be one solution – to state what types of resources will be used, and what specifications are required to use them – then people can make a choice.

Another option would be for an organisation to stop using Flash, so that the iPad users out there, can use their devices, but how far do we go with this. I use Microsoft extensively in my teaching resources – so some of these resources become unusable on certain devices. However when I produce such resources, I do try where possible to create them in a way that they will work in older version of office and in open office. This isn’t always possible as sometimes there is a functionality in the newer versions which prevents this, in which case I have to make a judgment as to what to do, which is similar to accessibility judgments where you way up the benefits for the masses, against the disadvantages to the minority – can you make an adjustment for the minority, and then decide which technique or tool to use, and I think that this approach is valid for the use of Flash, and I follow these steps when making a decision.

  1. What is the learning outcome that I am trying to achieve?
  2. Which learners will be using the resource, and when and how?
  3. Which technologies could be used?
  4. Which one will give me the best desired output?
  5. Which one will give me the best compromise of desired output and increased accessibility?
  6. Which one will be easiest to update in the future by myself or someone else?
  7. I will then weigh up the answers to the above questions to try to make an informed decision.

The problem with this model is that it relies on me having not just a good knowledge of the different options available, but also access to lots of different tools to create them. In many organisations they will have a small number of tools to create content, and the staff will learn how to use 1 or 2, and then proceed with them only.

At some point in the future when HTML 5 is mainstream then these issues may go away, but there is such a vast array of existing materials out there, it will take time for this to happen and time for the existing resources to get converted and updated.

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