The slow death of Flash and what it means for eLearning


You may have heard recently that Adobe is finally going to kill off Flash by the end of 2020. What does this mean for the L&D space?

Well, depending on how reliant your content is on Flash Player, the impact your L&D team feels can range from a minor ripple, all the way through the digital equivalent of “Sharknado”.

To understand how you will be affected, you first need to know what Flash Player is, why it’s being killed off and how to check which of your learning assets are reliant on it.

Sooooo, what is Flash Player?

Unsurprisingly, I’ve been asked this quite regularly since news of the Adobe announcement trickled through to the L&D-sphere. While I could spend some time getting into the technical side of things using a lot of jargon like “assets”, “framework”, “render” and “bandwidth”, the simplest way to explain it is that Flash Player is the digital equivalent of a VCR (some of you may need to google this).

Just like you need a VCR to play VHS tapes, you need Flash Player to be able to view Flash based content, including learning assets.

With Adobe making the decision to stop supporting VCR (Read Flash PLayer), you will potentially end up with a vast collection of classic VHS movies (Read eLearning), like the timeless Arnie classic “Predator” but nothing to play them on.

But why kill it off if it’s not harming anyone?

Yes and no. When it was first released over 20 years ago, it revolutionised what was possible in terms of interactivity and animation on the internet. But over time, it became apparent Flash had some shortcomings:

  • Resource heavy (Used too much of your device's power/performance)

  • Not responsive (Doesn’t natively allow resizing to a mobile phone screen)

  • Security issues (The data is was sending and receiving could be compromised)

While being resource heavy and not responsive was a significant headache, as it resulted in less than ideal user experiences, the security issues were the first nail in the coffin for Flash Player.

Due to these issues, Apple was the first major brand to stop supporting Flash Player on all its devices.This was shortly followed by Android and most recently Google, who stopped fully supporting Flash Player in their browser in 2016.

How do I check if my eLearning is Flash based?

There are actually two fairly accurate and quick ways to check if your eLearning assets are using Flash Player.

1. Try to Launch your eLearning asset on an iPad or iPhone
Because Apple hasn’t supported Flash for some time, it will not launch any content that uses Flash Player. Instead, it will display a message similar to this:

flash pop up elearning

2. Right-click to enlightenment
The other way to see if Flash Player is being used by your content is to launch your course in a desktop browser and then right-click anywhere on the module. If your content is using Flash Player, you will see this pop-up (I’ll affectionately call this the “Flash pop-up of death”).

flash pop up of death

If you don’t see this pop-up, there is a very good chance that your content is using HTML5 and you will experience the minor ripple, rather than the Sharknado.

The tests above are a quick way to get a fairly accurate view of it your content is Flash Player demandant, but to get 100% accurate picture it’s probably best to engage some tech savvy people to do a thorough audit. Or you can enlist our help with that.

Keep calm and don’t panic!

You might be having palpitations if you're repeatedly seeing the "Flash pop-up of death" as you go through your courses, but don't panic!

If your content was created using an eLearning authoring tool like Storyline or Captivate, updating it to not use Flash Player could be as simple as re-publishing and re-testing using the HTML5 settings.

The final twist…

At this point, I have taken you on an emotional roller coaster. You may have gone through the low of realising you have a heavy reliance on Flash Player, then breathed a big sigh of relief when you discovered your content may just need to be re-published.

But now, one more twist; your LMS may not be configured to allow HTML5 content.

Because Flash Player has been a staple for 20 years, many organisations only considered Flash Player when they configured their LMS. HTML5 was something to think about “down the road” after Flash gets killed off. Well, “down the road” is now here.

So I hope this article will be a catalyst for you to start the conversation, for planning on how you will future proof your eLearning, both in terms of content and LMS, for 2020 and beyond.

If you’ll feeling a bit overwhelmed, we’re here to help. Contact us and we can chat how we can help you assess your current position, then work out a roadmap to a smooth 2020.

Raf Dolanowski