Site Logo
by T.J. Akisanya - Tuesday, 2 July 2019, 10:08 PM
Anyone in the world
laptop with SME being interviewed by an instructional designer

How Was Your Day?

An Illuminating Question for SMEs

For instructional designers, interviewing Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is a necessary task. SMEs both provide and validate essential information relating to processes, procedures, policies, scenarios, and other facts required to build accurate and relevant course materials.

How we conduct SME interviews can vary widely because, over time, each of us develops a unique style suited to our personalities and level of experience. Additionally, we adapt our technique according to the depth and breadth of information we wish to obtain.

When interviewing SMEs, I generally gather enough information to role play —i.e., place myself in the shoes of the learner. Then, I ask one last question to tie everything together and thus create a flowing storyline through the process.

I ask, “the last time you performed this task, how did your day go?”
Or “Would you please walk me through a typical day?”


Would you please walk me through a typical day?

In the early years of my career, I worked as a technical trainer. I traveled throughout the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia, delivering customized training before, after, or during the sale. My job was to ensure new clients successfully adopted our software.

Success was easy to measure. If clients liked the software, they used it. If they did not, they either would not buy it or would abandon it soon after purchase.

After some experimentation, I adopted a single mission and strategy.

My mission was clear: to ensure our clients knew how to use our software well enough for it to help them look like a Rockstar at their jobs.

My strategy was simple: integrate our software seamlessly into their daily routine, thereby creating a concrete path for clients to adopt a new habit.

Hidden Gems

Man digging for buried treasure

As the SME recounts their day, the conversation regularly yields subtle details that people often overlook as their expertise grows and tasks become instinctive. 

I frequently hear comments such as:

  1. “Our office processes over 450 payments per day…” 
    Probable influence: high volume. Should we address how to automate frequent tasks? Is speed going to be significant? Do we need to include timed exercises for practice?

  1. “Yes, but we wouldn’t do that unless we were asked to do so in our weekly meeting; otherwise, we would usually…”
    Probable influence: if the information from this meeting were highly pertinent, this would make a great start to a scenario because the process starts here.
  2. “A client phoned, and I had to work with them to solve a different problem…”
    Probable influence: frequent, lengthy interruptions; for security, the system will automatically log them out. We will need to include how to configure timeouts, etc.
  3. “I usually wait until after 2 pm before processing those forms …”
    Probable influence: why? It requires further investigation.
  4. “No, I can't do X at the same time as Y because I have to close out of that system before I can enter this one…”
    Probable influence: showcase how we can do it better or highlight prerequisites, best practices, etc.
  5. “Some payments are made in foreign currency…”
    Probable influence: is that common? We have the functionality to deal with that. Do we need to include it in the learning module?

The above examples serve to illustrate that this question is still an appropriate and useful means of identifying and filling any process or data gaps —even when designing e-learning.

Answers may also generate valuable insights that can help learners take some steps towards making the mind-shift from rote memorization to connection and understanding.

Purposeful Rambling

It might sound like I encourage the SME to ramble on, but please try to think of it as purposeful rambling.

As the SME responds, the conversation usually becomes quite fascinating and thus develops the potential to segue into side topics. Therefore, I make a conscious effort to remain focused by taking notes.

Notetaking forces me to actively listen and analyze the information the SME is sharing with me. As I jot each item down, I evaluate it by asking myself, "how is this relevant to the learning solution?"

After the conversation, while tidying my notes, I select the content with the best potential to help achieve the learning goals.

My ultimate objective is to design e-learning that is complete, accurate, and better prepares learners for on-the-job success.

It’s a simple question that every SME can answer: “would you please walk me through a typical day?”

At best, the answers can be illuminating —shedding light on meaningful, contextual information for relevance (engagement) and scenarios.

At the very least, this is a great way to double-check that all the information obtained previously is accurate, complete, and sequenced correctly.

[ Modified: Thursday, 4 July 2019, 11:39 PM ]
Site Logo
by T.J. Akisanya - Saturday, 15 June 2019, 6:10 PM
Anyone in the world
Laptop showing Adobe Captivate's Color Selection Dialog

Creating Custom Themes

Tips & Takeaways

Originally Posted: Thursday, 24 January 2019

Earlier this month, I gave a presentation on Creating Custom Themes at our local Adobe Captivate User Group. As I was going through the step-by-step process of creating a theme, I found myself reflecting on my experience over the years – what worked, what flopped, and how to save time. In this article, I will share some of those lessons learned – as opposed to the step-by-step technique of creating a theme.

This article is aimed at intermediate Adobe Captivate users who have already created a few projects and are now ready to create a theme that reflects their client’s or company’s brand and/or ensures visual consistency across related e-learning modules.

Preparation is Key

Begin with the end in mind.

Stephen Covey ~7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I find that careful planning and a little research before starting to create a custom theme saves a lot of development time.

According to Adobe's online Help (, a theme consists of the following components: Master slides, object styles, Skin and TOC (table of contents) settings, and recording defaults. Planning helps to determine which of these components will need to be customized in the theme, as well as how they should be customized.

For example, there is no need to customize the skin and TOC if they are never going to be used.

So, how do we know what to include in a theme?

How to Determine What to Include

Visual Elements

Determining the look and feel of the theme is easier if the client has is a Style Guide or similar document which defines their company’s brand as this becomes the definitive guide for visual elements.

However, there have been many occasions when I have had the pleasure of creating the visual style from scratch. If this is the case, and there is a graphic designer or UI designer on the team, I use them as a resource.  

Frequently though, the budget does not include such a wonderful resource. In these situations, my primary concern is to start from a cohesive color palette that will help project a professional, polished finish. To accomplish this, I either:

  • Use a color generating/matching tool. Or...
  • Take advantage of resources that supply cohesive color palettes. Or...
  • Consider paying for images in order to get access to additional configurations and assets.

Using a Color-Matching Tool

My favorite tool is Color Explorer.

Using the color picker, I can start from a color I like and the tool will generate complimentary colors. I can also upload an image, and it will extract a color palette from that.

Any color palettes generated can be exported as an Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) file that can be exported into Captivate using the Swatch Manager.

A color palette generated from an image in Adobe Color CC

As illustrated in the image above, Adobe Color CC ( has similar functionality and provides greater control over the colors generated from imported images. However, I find it less intuitive.

Utilizing Color Palette Resources

A resource I like to use for inspirational color palettes is Veerle (whom I do not know personally), generates color palettes from images people share with her, and makes these available to download in ASE format --for free!

Purchasing Images

When my budget allows, I find that purchasing non-exclusive royalty rights to the images that inspire me often provides access to the PSD, AI or other vector image source files. In this way I can go beyond just using the colors, and – also extract elements of the image to use as buttons and other key elements to maintain the cohesive theme. This is often quite inexpensive. I usually spend between $35 - $80 on an image and reuse its assets over and over again -- guilt-free!.

Functional Elements

Identifying which functional elements are necessary for a theme and which are not, can be a great timesaver – both when creating the theme, and down the road as the theme will not need to undergo constant updates in order to provide Objects and functionality that are needed in the courses.

For example, in an Accessible course, the Matching Question type will not be used in a quiz, so there is no need to spend time customizing it or similar Quiz Master slides. 

Another common example the use of custom navigation buttons. Although buttons cannot be defined in Master slides, Smart Shapes can. So, in this case I would add Smart Shapes as buttons to the appropriate Master slides when creating or customizing any standard layouts.

Another example would be simulations. If no simulations will be recorded, time can be saved by not customizing the Recording Defaults.

Depending on how my team is structured, and my specific role within the team, I use one of the following methods to identify key functional elements:

  • Create or obtain an approved wireframe, or storyboard of a course that will be typical within the series;
  • Build the first course and use the functionality within the course as the template for the theme;
  • Build a rough prototype of the course (in PowerPoint or Keynote) and use it to get buy-in from stakeholders around the key functionality.

Build Systematically

1. Choose the Base Theme Carefully

In order to create a theme, we have to start somewhere. The documentation recommends starting from the theme that is closest to the look and feel we want to achieve and customize it. 
However, I’ve that starting with a theme that has very little formatting such Pearl or White and adding the styling needed can save time and effort. In my experience it can take a lot more time to locate and undo changes I don’t need, and if I am going to share the theme with other team members, I don’t want any hidden surprises.

2. Start with the Theme Colors

The theme colors are used throughout the theme in myriad locations – text, backgrounds, slide colors, and so on. I’ve learned to customize the theme colors (using the desired color palette) as early as possible to ensure consistency across all elements within the project.

3. Next, Create the Master Slides

Customize Layouts and Add Graphical Elements 

Obviously, we need to customize the Master slide layouts to reflect the layouts being used in the course and add any commonly used “buttons” as smart shapes. Here, I’ve learned to:

  • Start building from the background up.
    Applying background elements before adding those that will be in the foreground helps to create visual anchors that can be used to determine where to situate the elements that are added later.
  • Test incrementally.
    As new elements are added, creating test slides using the new Master slides helps to get a good idea of how the Master slide will function in practice and tweaks can be made, if necessary.
  • Remember to add non-static elements as placeholders.
    Placeholders can only be added while in the Master Slide View. Insert them by selecting the appropriate option from the Insert > Placeholder Objects sub-menu.

    The Insert Placeholder option on the Insert menu

  • Take advantage of Smart Shapes to add custom buttons.
  • Store commonly-used graphic elements for easy access.
    In my opinion, the Master slides are a good place to put any graphic elements that will be used consistently throughout the course.

For example, if I have six approved images of people that can be used to represent clients within scenarios. I might add these images to one or more of the Master slides so that they are immediately available to anyone who applies the theme.

I believe this is a smart way to add a base set of images to the library to ensure consistency, but I’m not certain that it is conventional.

Begin Customizing Text and Object Styles

I’ve learned that there are a couple of advantages to starting the customization of Object Styles from within the Master Slide view:

  1. I can see the effect of any changes as I make them and make any necessary adjustments.
  2. I can save time by applying the same change to multiple styles using the Properties > Style Name submenu (see image below). 

How to modify multiple styles from the Properties Inspector

The down side to this is that changes to multiple styles seems to be hit and miss. Sometimes the effect sticks, sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does work, it’s great!

Double-Check and Finish Customizing Text and Object Styles

After making the preliminary changes to text and object styles in the Master Slides view, I use the Object Style Manager to ensure that all the changes I have already defined view have been applied. I also customize any object styles I may have missed, or I think might be useful later at a later date.

The Object Style Manager includes functionality to Export and Import Object styles, so after making modifications, it is possible to save those changes in an external file which can be imported into other themes down the road – or so I have heard. I haven’t had the opportunity to do this in practice.

The Object Manager with the Import and Export styles options highlighted


Remember to customize the Skin and TOC settings as well as the Recording Defaults if your projects require them. 

Finally, save the theme.

Saving the Theme

Themes can be saved in any desired location. Wherever you save them, they will still become immediately available within the Themes palette so be sure to pick a location you can easily find if you need to share copies of the theme with other team members.

[ Modified: Sunday, 16 June 2019, 7:19 PM ]
Site Logo
by T.J. Akisanya - Friday, 14 June 2019, 4:09 PM
Anyone in the world
Laptop displaying a question from the custom quiz

A Custom, Accessible Quiz

Development Highlights

Originally Posted: Thursday, 3 January 2019

I recently developed a fully customized, yet accessible quiz for a client, and then decided to adapt the logic and push it a little farther to see what possibilities opened up for blending quizzes and knowledge checks more seamlessly into the storyline. With that goal in mind, I created a shorter, rewritten and rebranded version using a “Coffee to Go” storytelling theme (for clarity I’ll refer to this version as Quiz 2.0).

Since I first created it, I've brought Quiz 2.0 back to earth a little by:

  1. Weaving in facts about some of the key features within Adobe Captivate 2019 that support accessible e-learning;
  2. Providing a little information about the techniques I used to develop the course;
  3. Limiting my experiments with coffee and fictional coffee machines to the last three questions.

Therefore, in this article, I will focus on providing a very high-level overview of some key development decisions I made -- for anyone wishing to create something with similar functionality.

As is the case in most situations, there were constraints and requirements from the client that affected these decisions, and I’ll mention these where relevant.

In this section you will learn how to... lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore magna aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua.

Try the Quiz

I’ve posted the final Quiz 2.0 in my online portfolio. 

It will help to understand the rest of this article if you try out the quiz before reading further.

Multiple Introductions

Multiple text for introductions overlaid on a single slide

In the course, there are 2 possible scenarios in which a learner may start the quiz:

  • A first attempt;
  • Re-taking after a failed attempt.

For both scenarios, I used a single slide to communicate the introduction to the quiz. Structurally, this means that the quiz always starts from a single location. Through experience, I have learned that this simple decision will help to simplify any debugging that might be necessary later as it reduces the number of non-essential branches in the course.

To determine which scenario was in play, I used Captivate's cpQuizInfoAttempts system variable to track whether the quiz had previously been attempted. cpQuizInfoAttempts reports the number of times a quiz has been attempted; If the quiz has not yet been taken, its default value is zero.

Learn more about Captivate’s system variables at

The determineIntroTextMessage advanced action

To make setup this work, I assigned an advanced action to the On Enter event handler for the slide. Based on whether the quiz had already been attempted (or not), it determined which introduction message to display.

Custom Options

The highlighted True button for question 1 with it's Smart Shape properties visible in the Property Inspector

I created the custom options using Smart Shapes as buttons as this provided a lot of flexibility around their appearance. Each option has only two states: Normal and Visited.

In terms of accessibility, this was perhaps one of the trickier areas of the quiz because unlike regular buttons, Smart Shapes are not automatically accessible. It was therefore necessary to add Accessibility Names to each state.

Quizzing Logic

The shared action for a multiple choice, pick one quiz question.

The quiz contains accessible question-types exclusively: true or false, multiple-choice (pick one, and select all that apply) and fill-in-the-blanks. I created separate advanced actions to implement the logic for each of these question types, and then saved them as shared actions so that I could reuse the same advanced action for multiple questions containing similar objects.

In each question, every option has an advanced action associated with it which defines the following:

  • The score to assign to the option – 10 for the correct answer, 0 otherwise (in most cases. Select all that apply works a little differently).
  • Any options that must be deselected once this specific option is selected (for true or false and pick one question types).
  • The variable to update to indicate that at least one option has been selected --to indicate that it is time to enable the Submit button.

It is also worth mentioning that every question slide also has an On Enter advanced action attached to it that resets all the options to their Normal state and clears the score from the Submit button before the slide is displayed –-if the quiz is being retaken.

A Little Branching

The Branching view showing the branches from the Test Results slide.

As I mentioned earlier, through experience, I have learned that it is generally best to limit branching to only when necessary to achieve pedagogical objectives i.e. when distinct structural paths need to be defined. This situation fits that definition in that after the learner has completed the quiz, they are automatically directed along one of two distinct paths:

  • Pass the quiz and go to the course conclusion;
  • Fail the quiz and go back to the beginning of the quiz (to retake it).

So, this was a perfect situation to implement a little branching by creating a conditional advanced action which determined where to direct the learner based on the outcome of the quiz. It did this by determining which Next button and message group to display to the learner on the Quiz results slide.

Similar to the introduction, I used On Enter to attach the advanced action to the slide. This is the branch you can see in the image.

[ Modified: Sunday, 16 June 2019, 7:18 PM ]
Anyone in the world
laptop with Adobe Captivate Specialist Certificate

Gaining the Adobe Captivate Specialist Certification

Questions & Answers

Originally Posted: Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Earlier this month, I attended the Adobe Learning Summit in Las Vegas and was part of the second cohort to gain the Adobe Captivate Specialist Certification. Since returning, several people have asked what it was like, so I’ve decided to share the Q&A in this inaugural blog post.

How did you find out about it...

It was advertised on the Adobe Captivate product page.
A similar advertisement is posted there today. You can find the Adobe Captivate Specialist certification by following the instructions below.

In case this information is out of date by the time you read it, you can also find announcements posted on the Adobe e-Learning Community forum.

To locate the Adobe Captivate Specialist information:
  1. Scroll slowly down the page until you locate the thin banner announcing the Adobe e-Learning Conference (it should be just under the main image).
  2. Click the Register Now link to open the conference registration page.
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the conference registration page. 

Who was there...

There were around 400 people taking the certification exam, but many more attended the free Learning Summit on day 2.

Plus of course, a significant number of Adobe employees.

I was impressed to see the Captivate software developers assisting instructors in the Refresher classes. 

My particular cohort was taught by Dr. Pooja Jaisingh! It was really great to meet her in person after taking the online course.

I found myself taking the exam alongside many long-time users like myself, and a few intermediate users. I never personally met any beginners.

How often is it offered...

Adobe currently offers the certification twice a year --in the Spring in Washington, D.C. and in the Fall in Las Vegas, Nevada. This article states that it was first offered in Spring 2018.

What were you awarded...

Captivate Certificate

Framed and soft copies of my certificate.

Captivate Specialist tag for print

A soft copy of a Captivate Specialist tag for my website, business cards and such.

Credly verification

Credly Verification image for social media and web. You're welcome to click it to verify my credential!

What was the process like..

I think this is best explained along a timeline...

Day 0

  • Register for the conference.
  • Receive an automated verification with a link to conference-rate hotel reservations.

2 Weeks Before the Conference

  • Receive an invitation to take the online pre-certification refresher course in Captivate Prime.
  • The course covers all major functionality within Adobe Captivate --including new features released in Captivate 2019.
  • Content is divided over 20 chapters, each consisting of a number of short modules.

Adobe Learning Summit Day 1

  • Attend an all-day refresher class;
  • sit the Captivate Certification exam at the end of the day. The exam is open-book; a passing score is 70% or more. No retakes are permitted on the day.

Adobe Learning Summit Day 2

Photo taken by the conference photographer

  • Attend the conference and workshops;
  • receive your framed Captivate Specialist certificate (assuming you passed the exam), and have your photo taken by a professional photographer (courtesy of Adobe).
  • Receive a soft copy via email almost immediately.


Approximately 10 days after the Summit

the certificate

Adobe sends a soft copy of your certificate via email, as well as a link to your credential validation ephemera on

[ Modified: Sunday, 16 June 2019, 7:18 PM ]