For Joe Public, the impending retirement of Adobe Flash will hardly raise an eyebrow. *Plugin blocked* ‘Enable Flash?’ *Allow* is about as much interaction as most people will have ever had with the plugin.
But, with a significant amount of learning or course content containing Flash and delivered via a web browser, its upcoming confinement to the digital scrapheap could be kind of a big deal.
Launched in 1996, Flash won’t be going anywhere just yet, although both Microsoft and Google say they’ll disable it from their respective browsers “early this year”. When, exactly, is difficult to say. Adobe itself will finally pull the plug on December 31st 2020, after almost a quarter of a Century.
This will signal the end of a three-year ‘phasing out’ period for Flash, after the official announcement by Adobe in 2017 – which was all a bit… morbid:
“Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020.”

Why is Adobe Killing Off Flash?

Adobe probably has many reasons for deciding to end-of-life Flash, one of which will undoubtedly be security. Whilst Adobe has never explicitly stated that Flash’s liability to cyber-attacks is one of the reasons for its retirement, its ‘end of life’ statement in 2017 said the company had come to the decision after collaborating with other tech giants “including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla.”

In 2010, it was Flash’s security vulnerabilities that the late Steve Jobs was most concerned about when he banished it from the iPhone. In 2016, Flash was the weak link cyber criminals exploited to hack nearly all major desktop platforms, including Microsoft.

Security aside, there’s a much simpler answer for Flash’s redundancy. There’s no longer any real need or demand for a privately-owned proprietary plugin to run media content in web browsers. There’s an open-source solution that’s evolved in recent years to do exactly what Flash does – and more.

What will replace Flash?

Enter HTML5. As is usually the case with software and technology, when one giant falls – another rises and capitalises. HTML5 is no different. Faster. Safer. More powerful. Ever evolving.

HTML5 is the natural successor to Flash, first and foremost because it’s supported by all web browsers across the board. Particularly when we’re talking about learning content, this is a vital requirement: ease of access, anytime, anywhere, using just an internet connection.

HTML5 can handle pretty much everything Flash did and currently does, and it’s subject to continuous improvement – something Adobe could no longer commit to for Flash.

Using open-source plugins like H5P, educators and trainers will be able to create interactive HTML5 content for in-person training and online courses.

What does this mean for you and your content?

If your training material and learning content currently depends on Flash, there’ll obviously be steps you need to take in the near future. If your content does depend on Flash and has no HTML5 fallback, there’s a good chance your content will no longer work.

Not ideal, to say the least. But there are actions you can take to prevent a Flash fallout:

Content Audit

Most importantly, auditing your current learning content will obviously flag any instances of Flash. You need it to still work and be accessible come 1st January 2021, after all. Or, do you?

Flash’s retirement presents the perfect opportunity to assess whether some of your content is actually needed. Is it still being used? Is it still relevant, up-to-date and serving a purpose? Whilst it might be slightly cumbersome depending on the volume of content, an audit will save you both time and money in the long run. Short-term pain for long-term gain.

Planning

OK, we concede that much of your learning content isn’t necessarily business critical. Your organisation isn’t going to melt into an Adobe-induced abyss if Flash content isn’t accessible. Nevertheless, you’ll still need to plan for Flash’s retirement and put training on a pedestal.

Training is key in change management and not having up-to-date and correct learning content can be frustrating for users. Furthermore, it’s critical to the onboarding process for new employees, and can be a great reference point for what a system should do.

Because your Content Audit will flag any Flash content that needs amending, you’ll know exactly what content needs to be updated and you can set out a scope, schedule and timeline for getting all your material updated.

Update your Content

You’ve audited. You’ve planned. You’ve set out the schedule. But knowing is not enough, you must do something, so, now down to the doing – getting your content updated in time. Engage and involve the internal person or people, or external agency, as early in the process as possible to avoid any unnecessary updating of unneeded or obsolete content.

Some of your content has probably been around for years. Maybe not a quarter of a Century like Flash, but you can use this opportunity to update content using new learning techniques and technologies, consolidate your training material, and get rid of any deadwood.

Gone… in a Flash

It’s not time for panic stations just yet. If you fail to convert Flash to HTML5, there will undoubtedly be implications. But, if you get into gear now, you’ll have ample time to conduct a Content Audit, set out a plan and update your content all in good time, minimising or completely nullifying the impact of Flash’s retirement.

And if you do exactly that, the retirement of Flash will probably feel a bit like the Millennium Bug: lots of hype, but very little (if any) real-world impact.

Converting your content from Flash to HTML5 isn’t a negative activity, either. It presents a plethora of positive opportunities. For you, the implications might only be a review and consolidation of your content, where no actual updates are required.

But any significant change can be a little unnerving for most people. So, from one Flash to another, we’ll leave you with a quote from Barry Allen (“The Flash”):

“Things aren’t always what they seem. Our fears can play tricks on us, making us afraid to change course, afraid to move on. But these opportunities don’t come around every day, so when they do, we have to be brave and grab them while we can.”

31st December 2020. Blink and you’ll miss it.

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