Compressing Media in Your E-Learning Authoring Tools

In my last blog post, I shared the basic reasoning behind optimizing your e-learning media files and how to reduce file size using external tools.  Now, let’s explore the basic compression settings that come inside each of the four rapid e-learning authoring tools we use at Artisan E-Learning (Studio, Storyline, Captivate, and Lectora).  The advantage of using the compression options in your authoring tool is that it is quick and easy to compress everything in the course at once.  The disadvantage is that you are compressing everything in the course at once—whether it needs it or not.

Articulate Storyline

In Storyline, click the link in the Quality link in the Publish dialog box to access the compression settings. You can choose from a Standard setting (an optimized compression level designed to keep file size low and still maintain quality) or Custom if you’d like to manually set the quality settings for the different media types. The further right you move the sliders, the less compression you’re using, and the higher the quality (and larger the file size) you get.

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Articulate Studio (Presenter, Engage, and Quizmaker)

To use the publishing compression settings, go to Presentation Options on the Articulate ribbon. You can use one of the pre-set options or customize the quality settings for both images and audio. The Optimized for Web Delivery settings use optimized compression levels to keep file size low. Each image is analyzed, and the best setting is chosen (based on whether it is a screen shot, a photo, etc.). 24 kbps is the default for for audio under this setting. The Optimized for CD-ROM Delivery option uses minimal compression for audio (128 kpbs) and images. The file size will be significantly higher, and therefore should only be used if you know you have a good network connection. When you check the Custom (Advanced) option, you can then set your own image and audio quality settings.

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Articulate Studio has an extra option for compressing images either individually or for the whole project, helping you reduce the file size on a very granular level.  Because Articulate Presenter is a Microsoft PowerPoint plug-in, you get the benefit of PowerPoint’s Compress Pictures function. This feature lets you reduce the file size of one or all of the pictures in your presentation. Select the image you want to compress, click the Format tab, and then click Compress Pictures. You can also delete cropped areas of the picture, which reduces the file size because the data from the cropped areas is not stored in your file.  The downside of this method is that you can’t go back and change your mind later.  Whereas with publish settings, the images in your authoring file stay at their original resolution and are only compressed in the finished output.  This lets you change your mind and use different publish settings in the future.

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In Lectora, when you’re ready to publish, click the Compress and Convert tab at the top of the Publish dialog box.  From here, you can independently control the compression for audio, video, and image files.  Note that enabling these options also affects the file format used.

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Adobe Captivate

In Captivate, you control compression settings from the Preferences dialog box before you publish.   You have the option to compress full motion recording SWF files and to set the compression level.

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Captivate has a nice feature where you don’t have to use one-size-fits-all compression for the whole project.  In your slide properties, you can set the compression level for each individual slide.  So, for example, you can use a fairly high compression, but then on one slide with a large picture of the CEO, you can change the settings to high quality so that the picture—and the CEO—will look great.  Just make sure that your publish settings are set to retain slide quality settings.

Compressing inside or outside of your authoring tool

In my last post, I mentioned that it is sometimes better to compress your media files using external software.  Well, Lectora and Captivate both have a feature that lets you edit your media using external tools from within the authoring environment.

For example, you can set up Adobe Photoshop to be your photo editor in Lectora and in Captivate. Then, in Lectora, when you click the Edit button for an image, the image opens in Photoshop. In Captivate, if you right-click an image in the Library, you can open it in Photoshop. And if you have the full Lectora Inspire suite, then audio, video, and image editing tools are included, so you don’t have to link to your own tools.

You have lots of choices for compressing your media files either inside or outside of your authoring tool.  Here are two final thoughts.  1) Think “or” not “and.”  It’s best to compress your media externally OR internally.  If you do both, you probably won’t be happy with the result.  2) Remember that while compression makes your files smaller, it can also cause your course to lose quality.  The higher the compression, the lower the quality and vice-versa.  So it is important to strike a balance.

Nick Elkins

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