Learning content in crisis? The how and why of moving from Flash to HTML5
The Adobe Flash format, once the primary standard for learning content, will no longer be supported after December 31st 2020. You may still have useful Flash learning content in your curriculum or in your archives. So why is Flash going away, what is going to happen to it, and what should you do with it?
For readers of a certain age, Adobe Flash was the exciting new face of a media-filled internet. Many homework and office hours were sacrificed to crude but addictive Flash games and endlessly looping novelty songs. The corporate learning industry itself was a prolific Flash creator, with many organizations creating visually interesting content using the platform.
It’s now less than a year before Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla pull the plug on Flash entirely. Flash content still barely clings on—in internet terms, just under 3% of websites make use of it. So, what happened to cut Flash’s market share from 28.5% of all sites in 2011? What were the reasons for Flash’s demise, and what will happen on December 31st 2020? Read on to find out.
Why did Flash have to die?
The explosion of smartphone use was surely the main contributor to Flash’s death. In an open letter from 2010, Apple’s Steve Jobs identified several issues with Flash that meant the company would never feature native support for the standard. These were:
- Low reliability, security, and performance. Jobs named Flash as the number-one reason Macs crash, and contemporary accounts highlighted its poor security record.
- Flash was slow to support H.264 video decoding. The legacy, software-based standard that Flash Player used drained battery significantly faster.
- Existing Flash content was built with a mouse-pointer in mind, and wasn’t touch-friendly. Jobs reasoned that if content would have to be rebuilt anyway, there were many more ‘modern’ standards available to use.
- HTML5 was chosen over Flash because it was an open standard. Adobe had sole authority over Flash, and only they could control future enhancement and pricing.
Google used Android’s native Flash support as a differentiator until 2012, at which point the number of websites using Flash was already on a downward fall. Flash would linger for another half-decade, but with compromised mobile support it never really stood a chance in the mobile-first internet of the later decade.
What does the end of Flash support actually mean?
Though widely discussed as ‘end of support’, the reality is that the cut-off date for Flash will be more of a killing blow. It has slowly been getting more difficult to access Flash content in modern web-browsers over the last few years. For example, in Chrome:
- Individual Flash Player items have been off by default and asking permission since version 55 (December 2016)
- Users have been required to enable Flash every single time they re-access a site since version 69 (September 2018)
- Flash Player must be first enabled in the browser settings since version 76 (July 2019)
A similar roadmap has been in place for Edge/Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. On mobile, Flash hasn’t received official support for nearly a decade. Google also announced in October 2019 that its search engine will no longer index Flash’s SWF file format, and will ignore any Flash content on pages it indexes. These hurdles obviously provide a poor user experience for anyone who wants to access content—and learning—built in Flash.
Will I still be able to access Flash content?
Though using Flash is actively discouraged, it’s likely that some organizations are still bypassing the barriers to continue to use old training materials. On December 31 2020, there will be an even bigger barrier to overcome. Adobe themselves will stop distributing the Adobe Flash Player. The functionality will also be removed from web browsers.
Will it be possible to load Flash content in 2021? Strictly speaking, yes. You could theoretically block the installation of the browser updates, and all future updates. Will it be possible to load Flash content without plenty of time-wasting and considerable risk? No.
What are the risks of continuing to use Flash?
The main risk with Adobe Flash after 2020 is security. The end of support will mean that any newly-discovered exploits won’t get patched. This is even before you consider that running Flash post-December 31 2020 requires you to skip browser updates too. This would leave you exposed to every other exploit going.
Really, unless you’re delivering training from the organization’s closed-network desktop machines, Flash learning simply doesn’t have a use-case after 2020. Even in this scenario, no one would say that you’re allowing your training to reach its full potential. A move to HTML5 will ensure that your learning is effortless to access, better to look at, and your learners’ performance easier to measure.
Moving from Flash to HTML5: Why It’s Finally Time to Look at Your Learning Content
HTML5 addresses Flash’s shortcomings while allowing for a good amount of its functionality to be replicated. HTML5 content can be viewed on any device, works within any modern browser, and is reliable, secure and fast. Provided that your learning platform is built to take advantage of all of HTML5’s features, you can easily create content that is superior to your Flash learning. Which is all just as well, considering Flash is no longer a viable option.
However, as we explore in our post on Converting Flash to HTML5, moving things over isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Generally speaking, the more user interaction and animation in your Flash version, the more time you will need for conversion to HTML5. It is also worth considering how you could refresh your Flash content in the transition.
Even if you decide that certain content isn’t worth bringing forward, it is worth considering the best way to archive your Flash content for easy reference. Bear in mind that accessing any Flash content will become more difficult after 2020. You may want to work on extracting assets such as images or text before this happens.
Banner Image Credit: Adobe Blog