How interactive is your elearning? H5P, Storyline, and Captivate compared!

By now, I hope you’ve heard of H5P, and that you’ve had time to give it a go. Its name belies how fantastic it is. H5P is an open source platform for developing interactive elearning. Haven’t tried it yet? Give it a go. I’ll wait. If you really want to dive in, I’ve got a brief guide on getting started with H5P.

To me, H5P is a game-changer. Previously, interactive lessons were only possible with expensive and proprietary software, “freemium” online platforms that come and go like the wind, or advanced HTML and Javascript programming knowledge.

Now, H5P allows anyone to create advanced and instructionally sound interactive online lessons from within the web browser. Lessons can be downloaded, shared, adapted, and deployed on any device. H5P is open source software that facilitates creation of learning experiences that are also open by default. Published H5P automatically features a “download” button that allows anyone to reuse it (under the Creative Commons BY license). Great, right? I love sharing my work, and being able to reuse others’ work.

Of course, there’s (sort of) a catch. H5P is fantastic. But it’s probably not going to replace Storyline or Captivate just yet.

If you have experience using Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate, you’re probably wondering how H5P stacks up. If you don’t have experience with these software, it still may interest you to know how H5P compares to these expensive, proprietary software. In this post, I’ll focus mainly on the difference in interactivity possible with these three software, and I’ll touch on a few other categories as well, including responsiveness, accessibility, and LMS integration.

H5P vs Captivate vs Storyline

Briefly, Storyline and Captivate are the most commonly used authoring software in the field of instructional design. By authoring software, I mean that these software are used to author courses and tutorials that are interactive and include lots of multimedia. If you’ve ever completed an online training that included videos and quizzes, that training was probably created using one of these software, or something really similar.

Both Storyline and Captivate are great. They can both create very complex and engaging courses. They are both very expensive, and they both have a bit of a learning curve. The courses published with these software are locked down. They cannot be adapted or customized in their published state. Designers can share the raw files with others to adapt and reuse, but the raw files necessitate also having, and knowing how to use, the relevant software. I emphasize knowing how to use because, again, both of these software have a learning curve, and even making a small tweak to an existing course can break it if you don’t know what you’re doing.


Perhaps the most significant difference between H5P and these two software is the level of complexity possible. Storyline and Captivate both facilitate complex, branching scenarios that may include very complicated logic statements coupled with variables that result in elearning experiences that adapt to the learner.

H5P is more like PowerPoint with quizzes added in. Some branching is possible, but H5P does not allow the possibilities of using variables or logic statements. It is very easy to use, though, whereas both Storyline and Captivate can feel harder.

Where these three platforms really depart is in the level of interactivity possible in the learning experiences produced. Allow me to explain! When creating elearning, there are four levels of interactivity:

  1. Passive: “page-turners,”with interactivity limited to next-and-back buttons
  2. Limited participation: drill-and-practice; response-specific feedback
  3. Complex participation: branching scenarios; simple simulations
  4. Real-time participation: real-time and immersive simulations, like virtual reality
[source: DOD Development of Interactive Multimedia Instruction Handbook, p. 46.]

H5P is capable of Level 2 interactivity. H5P supports drill and practice learning, and the ability to offer specific feedback on learner responses. That means that you can program in guiding and correct feedback when learners answer incorrectly, and supportive, reinforcing feedback when learners answer correctly.

Storyline is capable of Level 3. Using Storyline, designers can create complex, branching scenarios that force learners to make qualitative decisions, and offer feedback on those decisions. Storyline may also be used to create simple simulations of real-world situations.

Captivate is capable of Level 4. It does everything Storyline does, but the newest version, Captivate 2019, allows designers to create interactivity Virtual Reality. Designers may insert 360 images and video, and create interactive hotspots within these media. It’s impressive! However, Captivate is Captivate, and the 360 features are glitchy at this time. I imagine future releases will improve.


H5P wins for responsiveness. H5P automatically reflows and resizes to fit any screen, mobile or desktop, with no additional development work needed on the part of the developer. H5P is also HTML5 format, not Flash, so that it’s mobile device friendly. Increasingly, browsers are cracking down on Flash-based content, so it’s really important to consider the output format. However, slides created with H5P’s Course Presentation format may not reflow correctly, so it’s important to do some testing if it’s important to you that it works well on mobile devices.

Storyline and Captivate both offer the ability to resize courses to maximize their fit onto any-size screen. However, content doesn’t reflow automatically like most of H5P’s formats do. Storyline, currently, doesn’t offer additional development tools to program reflowable courses, but Captivate does. Of course, it takes a lot of extra development time, and sometimes it’s glitchy.


Again, H5P wins on accessibility. Most of H5P’s content types are automatically 508-compliant, provided you enter alt-text where prompted, and include captions for videos.

Storyline and Captivate courses may both be developed to work well with screen readers, but it will take lots of extra time to program tab order for slides with lots of elements. Both Storyline and Captivate support captions and alt-text.

If you’re making your own videos, I suggest speeding up your caption time using YouTube. You can export the captions to any of these platforms, though for H5P you will have to make sure you’re using the VTT format.

With any of these platforms, it’s important to test your content to be sure the accessibility features will work as you expect them to.

LMS Integration

Both Captivate and Storyline are big names in instructional design, so both may be published in SCORM and TinCan in the formats that work well with any self-respecting Learning Management System.

However, H5P does not publish in SCORM or TinCan. H5P is only H5P. It may be embedded as an iframe into any LMS course, just like Storyline or Captivate may also be embedded (though be careful with this, because Chrome in particular is cracking down on iframes). H5P will only “talk” to your LMS if its plugin is installed, and there are only plugins for open source LMS and CMS, naturally, including Moodle, Drupal, and WordPress.

I will say that the H5P plugin for Moodle is fantastic, we happen to have it at my university and it’s fun to make assignments.

Choosing Between H5P, Captivate, and Storyline

The software that will work best for you depends on your instructional context, your time, and your budget! Storyline and Captivate are both wonderful software, but they both have a big learning curve, both cost a lot of money, and both create elearning that are difficult to adapt and reuse.

H5P is easy to pick up, it’s FREE, and it produces elearning that’s easy to adapt and reuse. However, the interactivity possible is very low compared to Storyline and Captivate, which may be a huge problem depending on your instructional needs. H5P also doesn’t “talk” to major LMS like Blackboard and Canvas, whereas Storyline and Captivate both do.

Check out the following chart for a breakdown of how these three authoring software compare. What did I miss in this post? What other features vary between these three software? Comment below!

Feature Comparison

  Media Complexity of elearning Responsive Output Accessibility Adaptability by Others LMS Integration Software Platform Cost
Embed Videos, Images, Sound Low: no branching, variables, logic; Level 2 interactivity possible Auto-resizes and reflows Many content types useable by screen readers. Video captions. Alt-text for images. Default features allow downloading and adapting by others. Must use plugin available for Moodle, Drupal, WordPress Any platform, usable via internet browser. Free
Embed Videos, Images, Sound High: variables, branching, logic; Level 3 interactivity possible Resizes, does not reflow Possible to make screen reader accessible with additional development time. Video captions. Alt-text for images. Must manually share raw file, and specify terms of use. Publishable in SCORM, TinCan (standard LMS-compatible formats) Windows only ~$1400
Embed Videos, Images, 360 images and video, Sound Very high: variables, branching, logic; Level 4 interactivity possible Resizes. Reflow possible with additional development time Possible to make screen reader accessible with additional development time. Video captions. Alt-text for images. Must manually share raw file, and specify terms of use. Publishable in SCORM, TinCan (standard LMS-compatible format) Windows or Mac ~$1100


2 Responses

  1. […] H5P is similar to the authoring software Captivate and Storyline, but the main difference is that H5P is limited in interactivity possible. H5P does have wonderful accessibility and responsive features that are often a big improvement over Storyline and Captivate! (Learn more about how these three software stack up!) […]

  2. […] open source project. Anything written on the topic is going to be a labor of love. And I’ve got love for H5P, in […]

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