eLEARNING DEVELOPMENT: Dude, Watch Your Aspect... Ratio!
When creating eLearning in TechSmith Camtasia, Adobe Captivate, or Articulate Storyline, one critical consideration is the physical width and height of your project (also known as the canvas size).
The size of the project is measured in pixels and if you don't get this right from the start, changing your mind later could lead to some unintended consequences. (Objects being resized out of proportion is one of the biggest concerns.)
When I teach any of my eLearning courses, I encourage learners to consider their end-users when determining the size of the canvas. These days, most users access eLearning content on anything from a desktop computer to laptops to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.
In my experience, most devices used to view eLearning are shaped more like rectangles than squares. For that reason, I think the eLearning canvas should be set up to use a 16:9 aspect ratio as opposed to 4:3.
The aspect ratio of an eLearning canvas designed to be viewed on its side, or in landscape mode, is the ratio of its longer side to its shorter side. If you go with a 4:3 aspect ratio (4 pixels across for every 3 pixels in height), you're working with a shape that is tending toward a square. If you go with 16:9 (16 pixels across for every 9 high), the shape is very much a rectangle.
Once you decide on the shape of your canvas (again, 16:9 is a strong rectangle shape), the exact size you use depends on your design and/or the needs of your users. Both 1024x576 and 1280x720 are 16:9 ratios. (Here's a handy list of 16:9 aspect ratios.)
So how do you ensure your aspect ratio is a 16:9 aspect ratio as opposed to 4:3. Read on!
Because eLearning often begins in Microsoft PowerPoint, let's start there. Go to the Design tab on the Ribbon and, from the Customize group, change the Slide Size to Widescreen (16:9).
In TechSmith Camtasia, click the drop-down menu just above the Canvas and choose Project Settings. From the Canvas Dimensions drop-down menu, choose a size from the Widescreen group. All of the sizes in this group are set to an aspect ratio of 16:9.
In Articulate Storyline, the default aspect ratio for new projects is 4:3. Go to the Design tab on the Ribbon and, from the Setup group, click Story Size.
From the Story Size drop-down menu, choose 720:405 (16:9) and then change the Width and Height as needed. Select Lock aspect ratio to ensure you're maintaining a 16:9 aspect ratio as you change the size.
In Adobe Captivate, when creating new projects, select Blank Project and then, from the Canvas drop-down menu, choose an appropriate 16:9 aspect ratio. If you need to change the size of an existing project, choose Modify > Rescale Project and change the Width and Height as appropriate.