So, what happens to Your LMS When Flash Stops Working?

With Flash going away in 2020, learning professionals are asking if it will affect how courses work in their LMS. So let’s take a look at what could happen to your Learning Platform and your web based courses.

After 23 years, Adobe will no longer support Flash or the Flash Player at the end of 2020. Some companies still believe that they can wait until next year to focus on the impact to their learning platform and any web based courses that may have Flash elements. Many articles have been written on this subject, but it can still be a confusing topic.

We’ll break the topic and questions into two elements, the learning platform and the web browser, and how to handle each by talking through the issues and providing some suggestions.

Flash and The Learning Platform:

You’ll notice we called this a “platform” rather than a learning management system (LMS) since Flash assets can be located in several areas that would impact proper operation. Most of the large learning management platforms have already addressed Flash based elements in their systems, so those applications should not be the issue. 

If your learning platform is working fine now, it will continue to “operate” fine even after Flash goes away. WAIT…. I’m confused…. Then what’s the issue? 

We know most of you fully understand how internet based applications work but it is important that we start at the beginning to make sure everyone understands. A company’s modern learning platform can be located anywhere in the world, thanks to the worldwide web (used for transmission) and a web browser (used for information access). Although the learning platform may be operating fine with Flash, the user on the other end of the transmission will not be able to “read” the information, causing the flow of information to break.

You want to make sure that any web page, or front page, of your learning platform does not have embedded Flash assets because it will negatively affect the end-user’s ability to see the learning platform.

Your LMS team, or vendor, needs to run a test to see if any Flash assets exist in the applications interface, or learning platform web pages – or whether they’ve made any platform customizations that introduced Flash elements into the system. These elements could be visual objects on the home page to add visual appeal – or they could be actual page objects – in either case, these assets will break when browsers remove the Adobe Flash player. 

Note to self:

Make sure to have the LMS team physically review application files, and run the application using a non-Flash browser to ensure no problems exist with the learning system.If you are a learning leader, expect no less than a written report proving these steps have been conducted.

If testing your learning platform has been completed, and no Flash assets are found, you can check off the potential learning system problems. Good job! Many companies have not completed this step.

Flash and the web browser:

The web browser is a software application created for accessing information on the worldwide web.  With Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Edge making up over 94% of the browsers being used world-wide.

The web browser actually plays the critical role in viewing the learning application and learning content. If the browser cannot read the information that has been sent over the web, a blank screen or an error message will appear.

This is at the heart of the Flash issue and a very important part of the process chain – the application – the web – and the application reader (web browser).

What’s your learning ecosystem?

Whether your company runs a tight, closed learning system, or an open learning system, will determine the next decision point in the examination.

With a tight, closed learning system, you can control the internet transmission and the type of web browser used. This approach not only makes it easier for companies to manage access to the learning information, but also restricts who can see that information. 

A more open system allows end-users to use any device or web browser to access the learning information. A military learning platform could be an example of a tightly controlled system, where they would control both the learning platform, as well as the transmission of information and the specific browser used. Coursera would be a good example of an open platform that allows anyone, anywhere to access their learning platform. The open approach challenges the company to make sure they are ready for when the browser companies decide to remove the Flash player from their application. With an open approach, you need to be aware of all the major browsers and prepare for the earliest date for them to disable the Flash player.

When does the Flash Player go away in the browsers?

For the web browsers: Mozilla, Google, and Microsoft, there’s a two-step approach to disabling the Flash player – by default in 2019 and at the end of 2020 – resulting in the inability to run Adobe Flash.

Initially, end-users can re-enable Flash’s ability to run in the browser on a site-by-site basis. Companies with IT help desks are already seeing a significant increase in calls and tickets related to the initial disabling.

Your actual deadline may not be the end of 2020, if your IT department has chosen an earlier date to remove the Flash player by pushing a newer version of the browser – without the Flash Player – to employees’ devices company-wide.

Note to self:

Check with your IT department to find out if an earlier deadline for Flash assets has been implemented. Many proactive companies have set the date at June 30, 2020, or earlier to avoid any last minute issues. Because your company deadline could be sooner than the end of 2020, you need to prepare for the shortest timeframe.

Check your learning content.

We won’t spend much time talking through this issue – which has been written about extensively – but we will say that if a web course was published with Flash content, that course will no longer work when the browsers retire the Flash player.

Now you are going to tell us, “Great, our company won’t have a problem since we have been publishing our courses in HTML5 format for the past three years, so our courses are all set!”

Not so fast. In recent reviews of several customers’ learning platform content repositories, the sinister swf files keep showing up. What the heck is going on? It turns out that several content developers were publishing courses in both Flash AND HTML5 formats thinking this was the right thing to do. During the publishing step, the developers can check the boxes to publish in both HTML5 and Flash formats. More options are better right? In this case, it turns out that including those optional Flash files will “break” the web-based course if it’s running on a web browser that has already disabled the Flash player because it can no longer read the course content.

Note to self:

Make sure you analyze your existing course files for Flash assets, and flag those offending courses to be either retired or corrected. Also, alert all of your content providers of any web-based courses that need to be addressed, and refrain from uploading courses with flash content into the learning platform going forward.

How to fix your courses?

Your next logical question should be: How do I find for these offending courses, and then how do I fix them? Both are great questions. To answer the “find” question, someone on your IT team should be able to review your content files and determine if there are any potential performance issues.

The “fix” question can be a little more difficult to answer, depending on the volume of courses and your ability to republish them internally. We’ve written extensively in the past, on how to convert Flash to HTML5, so please review some of our other Flash articles.

If you still need some help, think about this challenge in two phases.

Phase 1: Identify which courses contain Flash elements. Then, determine whether it makes sense to either retire or replace the course, and document the number and size of each course to replace.

Phase 2: Fix, or convert, the offending courses.

Possible alternatives

If you have the internal resources to fix any performance issues, great. If you need help, reach out to a learning provider, like Raytheon Professional Services, that has experience  analyzing learning platforms, web browsers and web-based course collections – and that can provide you with options.

When it comes to Flash, the clock is ticking, and you don’t want to be surprised when it strikes midnight. Get in touch with our team now to get your conversion process rolling.

How would you tackle the Flash conversion process in your organization? Do you have lessons learned that you’d like to share? Start a conversation in the comments below or connect with us at @RaytheonRPS using the hashtags #Flashconversion, #elearning or #onlinetraining.

To learn more, visit our Flash Conversion page on RPS.com.