Take to the Skies... with Captivate & Flash

JetBlue uses MX for online training of its crewmembers

With increasing frequency, employees (called "crewmembers") at JetBlue Airways are being asked to fulfill some of their training requirements online. The aviation industry is policy-intensive, and airline employees - everyone from flight attendants, to pilots, to customer service and ground crew personnel - are required to update their training each year on certain regulatory topics. To meet these requirements, JetBlue employs a blend of classroom instruction, on-the-job training, and eLearning.

eLearning fits into the overall training strategy at JetBlue for a number of reasons. First, tracking of course completion and online exams aids in the accuracy and efficiency of training records, which are required and periodically requested by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Second, as JetBlue continues to grow, eLearning will help the company scale its training to reach a rapidly expanding and geographically diverse group of crewmembers. For this low-cost, high-service airline, eLearning is a cost-effective solution that will help standardize the quality and content of training across the company. Third, the interactive potential of eLearning supports the overall training goals at JetBlue, which are not just to force the memorization of knowledge, but to prepare crewmembers to more effectively implement their knowledge in the workplace.

Flash MX, Dreamweaver, and Captivate are key tools for the development and delivery of eLearning at JetBlue. All eLearning courses are accessed via an XML/Flash-based interface that serves as a shell for course content and also tracks usage. The content of the courses themselves is multimedia, consisting of text, images, video, Flash interactions, and demos and exercises built in Captivate. Flash is an ideal tool for pulling together these various types of media as it allows learners to access course content with a single plug-in that is standard on all JetBlue computers. As an authoring tool, Flash has advantages as well. Both the skills required to use it and the content produced by it are portable, rather than being specific to a particular learning management system (LMS) or LCMS.

Flash/XML eLearning Interface
The main interface for eLearning courses at JetBlue is a Flash application that pulls data from XML files. Multiple factors contributed to the decision to use a Flash/XML-based interface. Most important, the Flash/XML interface allows interactive developers to keep the course content separate from the Flash application. Any Flash developer working in eLearning knows how often course content can change. The desire to allow instructional designers and/or subject matter experts to make changes to their own content was the driving factor behind the decision to use a Flash/XML-based solution for the interface. A carefully planned directory structure was created that keeps the content, Flash files, and ActionScript class files and their child items all separate. This allows updates to course content without affecting the Flash file itself. Since the Flash file does not need to be updated to make content changes, instructional designers and subject matter experts can make these changes in any text editor without any knowledge of Flash or involvement by the interactive developer. Another factor in our decision to use XML was the move toward SCORM standards in the eLearning community. Since SCORM uses XML, it made sense to move development in that direction. In addition, a Flash/XML-based interface was appropriate because there is a high likelihood that JetBlue will eventually use web services to have eLearning course content communicate with an LMS.

The initial look and feel of this user interface (UI) was designed with Macromedia Fireworks. Fireworks is a useful, often overlooked tool for user interface development. Multiple layouts are easily mocked up, and the design team can discuss and decide which elements work best before any Flash development begins. Fireworks enables pixel-precise planning of all graphical elements in the interface. When drawing the vector art in Flash, the exact sizes and positions of all elements can be taken directly from the Fireworks file. Non-vector graphics such as logos can be directly exported from the initial layout. This makes Flash development much more efficient and reduces the risk of unforeseen UI issues.

The interface is made up of several separate Flash files. The main Flash file contains most of the static graphical elements and handles the loading and management of all child SWFs. Module navigation is handled by a separate Flash file. The navigation file loads an XML file with all of the module navigation information. This Flash file is comprised of two different navigation features. "First," "Next," and "Previous" buttons allow the student to move sequentially through the module one page at a time. Also included in the navigation file is a button that opens a module map. The module map allows students to navigate to any point within the module using a tree menu. Separate Flash files are also used for "Help" and "Glossary" sections, which are also XML-driven, and are loaded in by the main Flash file. The Flash files have very little, if any, ActionScript contained in the movies. Most programming is kept separate in external .as class files. This makes changes in functionality much easier by reducing the need to track code through multiple movie clips and layers.

The content for the course is currently HTML pages, which are displayed in a parent HTML page that incorporates the content and Flash interface using an inline frame. Dreamweaver MX is used to edit the HTML pages. Development is underway to do away with the content HTML pages and eventually have all content stored in XML files. Other plans include support for SCORM sequencing, enhanced assessments, and the ability to deliver performance-driven learning.

Flash as an Authoring Tool
Prior to using Flash and Dreamweaver as authoring tools, the JetBlue eLearning design team tried several proprietary authoring tools associated with particular learning management systems. Ultimately, Flash (and Dreamweaver as an intermediate solution) won out. Still in the process of testing and selecting a learning management system, JetBlue needed content that could be moved easily from one LMS to another. Furthermore, the design team found that proprietary tools tended to be imprecise in their generation of code, and to be difficult to use or have a steep learning curve. As the team expanded, the ability to hire people with skills in a particular authoring tool, such as Flash/Actionscript, was beneficial.

Although the pages of course content are still HTML-based, the integration of Flash movies has helped JetBlue to move beyond the exclusive use of static text and images to more interactive eLearning. This has enormous instructional benefit, both because online learners are infamous for ignoring most of the static text they see on a screen, and because interactivity allows us to simulate the situations in which learners may actually encounter the material. For example, we can show baggage on a belt loader and ask the learner to click on those items that would require special attention and drag them off of the belt. This simulates the real situation in which the crewmember would physically pull the bags off the belt loader.

In creating content for the eLearning courses, the design team makes frequent use of the "Quiz" template that is packaged with Flash MX Professional. JetBlue has further customized this template to create a standard look and feel for drag and drop exercises and for "hotspots" (in which the learner must click on the correct part of the screen in order to receive feedback for a correct answer). This quiz template is convenient and easily customized.

Flash Video
At JetBlue, Flash is used with video both for eLearning courses and to add transitions to longer standalone videos distributed via DVD. For eLearning courses, short video clips are often used to illustrate a procedure such as opening an aircraft door. For these we use Flash video with progressive download. The interface for our courses is built in Flash 7, and the Flash 7 player is standard on all JetBlue machines; therefore, the use of Flash video does not require an additional plug-in. This solution is limited to short video clips, as longer clips will not stay in sync - a disadvantage of Flash progressive download.

JetBlue also produces longer videos such as videos of speakers' presentations. These are currently distributed both on DVDs and via the Intranet, using Windows Media Player. The purchasing of a Flash Communication Server has been investigated; however, the cost, as well as the limited number of simultaneous users, seems prohibitive. Outsourcing the hosting of our longer Flash videos remains an option. An advantage of the Flash Communication Server for eLearning courses would be the housing of all the video on the server, rather than within the courses themselves. This would facilitate modular use (video clips could be used in multiple courses) and revisions.

Besides the costs of the Flash Communication Server, there are other challenges with using Flash for longer videos. While other formats, such as Windows Media, avi, and mov, can be played on either DVD or Web, Flash is intended for Web playback. If a video were to be distributed both online and via DVD, two versions would have to be created. An additional challenge is that Adobe Premier, which we use for video editing, does not have direct output to Flash.

In longer videos, Flash serves as a quicker, simpler substitute for Aftereffects for inserting transitions. It also enables the integration of Flash animations with the video and shows promise for advanced techniques, such as interactive video that allows the user to choose the camera angle on, for example, a piece of technical equipment. In some cases, however, it is necessary to compensate for the difference in pixel size when building Flash animations or transitions to be displayed on a TV screen.

Using Captivate for Software Training
Captivate is a promising tool for creating simulations to train crewmembers on software applications. Currently two Captivate-based training projects for JetBlue reservation agents are in the works - one for our new reservations system, and one for Blue Pumpkin, the software used by reservation agents to bid for work shifts. This training will be delivered via computer in learning labs or available to crewmembers at home. Captivate simulations will be exported as SWFs and placed into HTML pages, potentially using our existing Flash interface.

The eLearning strategy at JetBlue is still evolving. In the past year, we have upgraded from RoboDemo to Captivate, built the entire Flash/XML-based eLearning interface, and begun the transition from HTML-based authoring to XML/Flash-based authoring. We continue to strive for the best possible use of technology to meet JetBlue's learning needs and search for new technologies that will make training more effective and efficient.

More Stories By Laura Sehdeva

Laura Sehdeva works in JetBlue University, JetBlue's corporate training department, where they use Macromedia products, specifically Captivate and Flash, for
training purposes. JetBlue University recently built a Flash/XML-based eLearning
interface, through which all of its eLearning courses are being

More Stories By Chip Moeser

Chip Moeser works in JetBlue University, JetBlue's corporate training department, where he uses Macromedia products, specifically Captivate and Flash, for training purposes. JetBlue University recently built a Flash/XML-based eLearning interface, through which all of its eLearning courses are being delivered.

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