Selecting a Hypermedia Authoring Program for CBT
by NICHOLAS WULFEKUHLE, Program Manager for Training Advanced Communication Systems, Inc. Fairfax, Va. Hypermedia, a steadily growing technology, is showing promise. This is a technology where students both learn faster and retain more information than ever before. Defined, hypermedia combines the information storage and retrieval aspects of hyperlinking technology -- which allows people to learn more naturally by linking theory to application rather than moving sequentially from one item to next -- with multimedia elements such as pictures, video, sound, diagrams, etc. Such an approach to interactive applications not only stimulates users' interest, but can also aid in the actual learning process. While hypermedia technology has provided the ability to replace paper with electronic documentation, it has been weak in its ability to support the development and implementation of interactive computer-based training (CBT). However, newly developed authoring systems now show great promise for developing hypermedia-based systems for CBT use. The key is to identify, by comparing commercially available hypermedia authoring programs, the best options for authoring and implementing hypermedia-based training programs. Since hypermedia is an emerging technology and an industry standard has not yet been established, developers must be able to sort through the several available options and conduct a comparative analysis on how each option can best be applied. Over the past few years, hypermedia has evolved from a theory to a real, and effective, medium. Hypermedia authoring software has been developed and is now offered commercially. While much of this software still has inherent problems supporting CBT, several programs have been developed specifically for it. Thus, it is incumbent upon users and training program developers to review all of the available options in order to select the best authoring system for their CBT needs. This article provides a framework for selecting a hypermedia authoring system for use in developing interactive CBT. The Basics Acquiring hypermedia capabilities is an expensive proposition. Besides all of the necessary hardware, the authoring software itself is likely to cost up to $5,000. Add program development costs (expect about $1,000 per minute of finished presentation) and it becomes evident that authoring system selection is a critical issue. One might want to use one of the many commercial companies that develop multimedia and, now, hypermedia programs. This option may be especially attractive if one is developing only one or two copies of a presentation. However, if the intention is to develop several CBT programs, consider the following approach when selecting an authoring system. Conduct a training needs analysis. This is where, to the best of one's knowledge, both current and future training requirements are determined. Determine what authoring programs are commercially available. Use the library to find directories of multimedia products or software. Contact program developers for demonstrations. Software vendors as close as the local shopping mall may be helpful. Computer magazines that review new hardware and software are also a good source and, at the same time, offer a head start because their reviews may already analyze several system aspects that are part of the criteria. Develop an analysis criteria by which prospective programs will be compared. This comparison should be conducted from both technical (software capabilities) and training support (ability to support learning objectives) standpoints. Functions Trinity We have found the above analysis criteria to be most effective when each authoring program's aspects are considered in terms of their ability to support three major functions:
Learner control; Form of information presentation; and Source data organization. With each of these functions are a series of factors needed to support the function. These are the factors we determined to be the most important to look for in a hypermedia-based authoring system that will be used to support CBT. A synopsis of our findings follows. Criteria of Learner Control The program must be supportive of its student-users. To support this function, analyze the following factors for each authoring system under consideration. Approach allows user to concentrate on content. CBT is most successful when students can concentrate on what they are supposed to be learning, rather than on the steps required to get through the program. When looking at this issue, analyze how the different program aspects are linked and what steps are necessary to link different media to support a given concept. User friendliness. Successful CBT depends on a student's confidence in using the system. User friendliness should be analyzed for the effectiveness of online tutorials and for ease of operation, such as the number of steps required to get from one place to the next. Online help. Online help is an important factor when selecting a multi-user system, especially since there will be a constant stream of new users who are not going to be familiar with CBT programs. Online help must be clear and simple enough so that students can guide themselves through the program with a minimum of facilitator supervision. Online help is also important for program authors. When looking at this aspect, see if the online help programs reflect the associated manuals to help judge how well the online help stands alone. D'es the user have to continually refer back to a manual or call the software vendor for support? Criteria of Info Presentation Successful CBT is dependent on a user's ability to easily get through the program, concentrating on the content without having to worry about program structure. This translates to an attentiveness to how information is presented. Authoring systems should be analyzed with regard to the following factors to ensure that they are compatible with all of the hardware and programming requirements necessary to support hypermedia program development. This function also includes factors that measure program effectiveness on the student-users. Ability to add audio and visual elements. Since a standard for what constitutes "hypermedia" has not yet been established, hypermedia authoring programs may vary widely in their ability to support different media. However, since learning is largely dependent upon what the student sees and hears, audio and visual capabilities are essential. Determine how the different authoring programs either incorporate capabilities or work around them. Accessibility to compatible hardware facilities. Most multimedia authoring systems support either DOS, Windows or Macintosh, and sometimes more than one. Operating system facilities must adapt to multimedia applications and be able to incorporate hardware that support these elements. Various multimedia elements could be brought into a production by copying them into the authoring system, thereby greatly decreasing associated authoring time. Analyze each hypermedia-based authoring system's accessibility to the applicable facilities and how they enable incorporation of multimedia elements. Ability to use multimedia items with ease. Hypermedia authoring programs require use of essential controls (linking mechanisms) to interact with elements such as sound or video.
Analyze each authoring program's capabilities in this regard to ensure compatibility with media elements. Ease of control. Straightforward controls greatly decrease development time. Analyze each hypermedia authoring system to determine how directly it allows incorporation of multimedia elements and how well these controls are documented and/or illustrated. Capability to import a variety of visuals. CBT visuals allow students to see what they are learning. It is therefore critical that hypermedia programs used for training can incorporate a variety of visuals into lessons. Analyze their ability to bring in visuals and the complexity of steps necessary to complete this task. Command language complexity. The command language should be simple enough so as not to intimidate or be overly difficult for new users. Analysis should evaluate how the programming language's difficulty relates to the program- execution speed. Often, learning a complex script language takes an extraordinary amount of time that could be better spent supporting program development. Analyze the difficulty of the authoring program's scripting language and the availability of examples to help newcomers level the learning curve. In addition, access time is a major issue in terms of students' patience and system acceptance. Ability to rate comprehension and performance. Some CBT allows a user to "successfully" complete the program without measuring exactly what he or she learned. Slightly more advanced programs test students and give a score, but without providing any feedback detailing deficient areas. Investigate this aspect of each hypermedia-based authoring system to determine what testing and feedback options are available; look at if, and how, they help students focus on concepts in which they may be shaky, rather than just showing them their test scores.
Ability to determine a correlation between the amount learned and the ability to produce. An historical problem with interactive training has been students' inability to apply concepts they have learned. For hypermedia to become an accepted norm, this shortcoming must be overcome. Analyze how each authoring program tests a student's ability to apply concepts, hands-on. This will judge if students are able to take what they have learned and use it in their jobs. Criteria of Source Data Org. These factors determine how effective a hypermedia-based CBT program can be in relation to the data source elements to be incorporated. Specifically, developers should closely analyze: Adaptability to interactive production. The ultimate goal of CBT in general, and hypermedia-based training in particular, is to give these systems an imbedded intelligence where a lesson could "learn" from problems students may be having , and subsequently grow to address them. High-end authoring systems have this "smart" feature. Analyze such systems for the relationship between cost effectiveness and the potential benefit to the student population. D'es the program have enough links and connections to provide flexibility for data import, programs and equipment? The ability to exchange information with other programs helps keep an authoring system manageable while still increasing the range of data available to it, without having to copy programs directly into the authoring system. Analyze the import capabilities of each authoring system for compatibility and flexibility. Adaptable to hypertext. Our premise is that learning by association is the most effective method. Although multimedia items add to a student's ability to associate concepts, CBT heavily relies on text to ensure concepts are properly conveyed.
This, then, requires hypermedia-based authoring systems to be adaptable to hypertext. Authoring programs should provide this specific function within themselves to simplify associated programming. Assess each authoring system's hypertext-readiness and judge how it adapts hypertext applications to associated multimedia elements. Review how the script language would support hypertext. Ability to support multimedia elements. Just like hypertext, various multimedia aspects are equally important to learning by association. Determine which multimedia elements each hypermedia authoring system will support and to what extent. Capable of loading large jobs. CBT programs typically require massive amounts of data to be incorporated into the system. Hypermedia-based programming compounds this requirement because it combines both textual linking (hypertext) and links with the various multimedia elements. This large-capacity capability is a major contributor to successful system development. Assess the capacity of each hypermedia-based authoring system to determine its suitability for CBT development work. Adequate variables/database elements to support interactive CBT. To develop an effective interactive training program, hypermedia authoring systems require database functions, variables and the ability to create subroutines to coordinate all the different elements. Initial attempts at hypermedia authoring software lacked the necessary variables and database elements to handle the inherent logic and conditional controls of CBT. Analyze each authoring system's programming variables and/or database elements. Further, try to determine how well each of the hypermedia elements is supported and how easy it is to link these elements into an interactive system.
Interactivity is critical to the success of any CBT program. Hardware and shell requirements necessary to support CBT. Nearly all commercial software runs on 386-based PCs or better. However, producing multimedia requires a more powerful base system (at least a 486-based PC or equivalent) plus several peripherals. Determine what hardware each authoring system requires for development, and further, find out if the finished product can be run on something more low-end. Production costs. As mentioned earlier, the mean cost of a hypermedia production is approximately $1,000 per minute of display. This is on top of the cost needed to procure the authoring system. Costs also vary with the complexity of what is displayed. Hidden costs, such as a software publisher's run-time royalty fees, can also significantly add to the cost of the finished program. If there will only be a limited number of copies of the program developed, it may be wise to have an outside party do it commercially , rather than investing in internal development. Who Should Do the Analyses? The people who conduct the analysis, as detailed above, are as important as the criteria being reviewed. Since the factors are both technical and programmatic in nature, we found it best to have people with experience in software development (preferably in a multimedia environment) and in training program development available. The matrix (see Figure 1) provides guidance as to who should analyze which factor. Some factors are both technical and programmatic; these should be reviewed by both the software developer likely to develop the presentation and the training program developer who is familiar with the content of the presentation. Conclusion As with all new technologies, time will judge hypermedia's effectiveness.
However, if initial findings are any indication, expect hypermedia-based training programs featuring the ability to "custom build" lessons to address users' problems, and grow accordingly, to be the future of education and training. These "smart" training programs will significantly reduce education and training costs. At the same time, it will decrease the time needed by students to master associated concepts plus help them retain more of what they have learned. Nicholas Wulfekuhle is Deputy Program Manager for Training at Advanced Communication Systems, Inc. (ACS) in Fairfax, Va. He has a bachelor's degree in Applied Behavioral Sciences and a master's degree in Management from National-Louis University in Evanston, Illinois.
This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.