Flash Remoting has been getting a lot of attention from developers in recent months. But what is it and why should we care?
In a nutshell, Flash Remoting is a way to let Flash applications on your computer ( i.e. in a browser such as Internet Explorer and Firefox or an AIR desktop application) communicate directly with a website. It’s fast and powerful and opens up new worlds of possibilities for RIAs (rich internet applications). This means that web developers can now create complex, interactive applications that you access on the Internet but look, feel and have all the sophistication and functions that you would expect from a desktop program like Microsoft Word.
OK, that’s not really a nutshell. Show me what you mean!
A simple example of an RIA is the Google Maps API for Flash. They provide an SDK (software development kit) for Flash which simplifies the process of retrieving map information from the Google Maps API (application programming interface). Now, Flash developers can write customised Flash applications that communicate directly with Google Maps and get map data stored on their databases. I created a simple demo which I posted on this blog earlier: Google Maps API.
Another example is eBay who have already published a desktop RIA of their auction website which communicates directly with eBay’s API (application programming interface) to provide a much slicker, faster, feature rich experience.
So what does this mean for e-learning?
This opens up a whole new world of possibilities for integrating Flash with learning management systems and information services. Flash will be able to directly use databases and rich media to create fast, efficient interactive multimedia applications for learners, course content developers and teachers. Many of the processes can be automated and made to be re-usable therefore cutting down on development time and costs.
In the not too distant future, we’ll see advanced learning interactions that can incorporate web services from Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Skype, eBay, Google Web Services including Google Talk, Amazon Web Services… and the list is growing. We’ll see images, audio, video and animations being used more dynamically and with increasing complexity to provide truly amazing immersive learning experiences. We can look forward to collaborating with classmates and teachers in virtual environments and interacting with text, images, audio, video, realtime 3D objects and animation. The possibilities are endless!
As well as being faster, Flash Remoting has other benefits too. The traditional XML file based approach to send lesson data, i.e. questions, answers, texts, settings, etc. has a very serious drawback – browsers store lesson data in learners’ browser caches* which can be easily retrieved by learners so they’ll be able to read ALL the learning activity data. Even with the commonly adopted SCORM standard, this is still the case. Not very good if it’s a test or exam that gives learners credits or final grades! With Flash remoting, however, the data is loaded directly into Flash Player’s memory and is very difficult to access.
* Browsers, i.e. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, etc. store files downloaded from websites in a special directory called a browser cache. If you return to a particular web-page, the browser checks to see if it still has a copy of any files downloaded in its cache and if it does, it simply uses that one and doesn’t download it from the website. It’s a good idea because it means your web browser has less data to download and your browsing experience will be faster.It is supposedly possible to tell browsers not to use cached files for certain pages but the standard is different across different browsers and in many cases it doesn’t work either!