This article was written and placed for Applied Courseware Technology of Fredericton, NB.
COMPUTER-BASED TRAINING AND INTERACTIVE MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGIES
Rapid Analysis and Design: Tools For Cutting Cost and Improving Quality
New York - July/August, 1997
Gerry Costello and Andrew Safer
According to International Data Corporation, the $15 billion global market for IT training is expected to surge to $27 billion by the year 2000. The Gartner Group estimates that the use of web-based training, CBT, and multimedia is gaining an increasing portion of the growing training pie.
But there is a gray cloud that goes along with the silver lining. Like that of most other users and developers, our experience at Applied Courseware Technology has been high up-front costs, constantly changing technology, tight time constraints, underdeveloped distribution channels among trainers, content or titles often not usable as delivered, and a high cost of assembling content for different needs and for use in different parts of the world.
Businesses need to be able to lower the cost of developing, maintaining, and distributing performance and learning content in order to achieve widespread acceptance. We have to cut up-front development costs, improve on channels of distribution, assure quality that is effective, and minimize the impact of technological change. In short, we have to get quality products to customers, regardless of where they are and what technology they use, in a format that meets their needs, at a price that's affordable.
If technology-based training is to achieve its potential, our goal should be to cut content development and maintenance costs by as much as 80 per cent, and do it in such a way as to improve quality and accessibility on a global scale.
Businesses are looking for trainers to develop reusable content quickly and easily, and software developers, in an effort to re-think the development process, have created a new category of CBT development tool: pre-authoring software.
Pre-authoring software has to walk a fine line between meeting the requirements and satisfying the end user. If it is over-built and rigid, it will not afford the training developer the flexibility he or she needs. If it lacks the structure necessary to keep the training developer on track, it will be simplistic in scope and lack the depth and architecture that adds value in courseware development. In short, it can be either too tight or too loose.
Nevertheless, there is a great need to streamline the development process, eliminate redundancies, and provide intelligent advice to the training developer. It is necessary to adopt standards that ensure a high level of quality within a framework that adds value to the content, and which also allow for interoperability across organizational departments and industry segments. Training developers have every right to demand tools that meet these requirements.
We need to have open and flexible tools that do not constrain the training developer by over-prescribing or forcing a lock-step process. To achieve this goal, what is needed are open and flexible tools that assist trainers in developing content in a way that is fast, easy, and not constraining. The tool must deliver performance support, such as intelligent advice, in a non-intrusive manner: It is there when it's needed, but it can also be transparent. This ensures that the training development is unimpeded.
CAPTURING KNOWLEDGE IN THE PROCESS
A key component to building content faster and easier is rapid analysis and design (RAD) technology. Rapid analysis and design is a framework developed by Applied Courseware Technology, Inc. to build a high value-added repository of knowledge by intelligently analyzing and indexing elements for reuse at various levels. With the rapid analysis and design approach, the user can simply create content on one level while at the same time adding to the repository of knowledge, which is reusable for a multiplicity of situations. We have created software tools - Integreator and Multi-Media Integreator - that embody RAD principles and facilitate the process in a variety of environments and with a spectrum of authoring tools. This article will show how the RAD process can be brought to bear on training development through the use of tools developed for the purpose. We use screens and examples from our tools.
The RAD process typically starts with identifying needs by documenting and quantifying indicators of problems, but a RAD tool should not force the training developer to complete unnecessary steps. For the training developer who wants the decision support, however, the rapid analysis and design tool can help to confirm whether training is part of the solution or if other issues need to be addressed first in order for training to be effective. It is this sort of depth of advice that saves organizations money.
The RAD tool gives the trainer option of being guided through the process of stating goals and analyzing constraints including target population, the setting, delivery systems, schedules, resources, and budget. The rapid analysis and design tool even assist the training developer by completing a preliminary cost-benefit analysis. If the budget for hydraulic repairs is three times what it was last year, the first order of business is to determine the cause. Is it because of inferior equipment, is there a need to train the repair people, or is it a combination of the two? The goals might be to cut the costs of repairs by 50 per cent, and to certify ten mechanics. The objectives might be to train the mechanics in certain aspects of hydraulic equipment maintenance. The strategy pinpoints the method of instruction and the sequence in which the material is to be taught.
With the preliminary analysis completed, the training developer then proceeds to group and sequence course components in a course map, write performance or learning objectives, select the best strategy from short lists of recommended appropriate strategies, and define media requirements. The development phase involves writing content, documenting test items to create test item pools for various modules and lessons, and developing story board scripts. The final two phases include producing CBT, managing media production, and evaluating the courseware.
Rapid analysis and design technology guides the novice every step of the way through a process that is a hybrid of the most common steps in the design and production of multimedia, CBT, and WBT. While the steps are always available, the user has the freedom to skip to only those steps required for the specific project. In fact, an experienced training developer can either choose to customize the steps to reflect a preferred process or to use a more advanced interface to improve performance even further.
WIZARD AS BUILT-IN ADVISOR
Rather than simply replicating all of these steps in a computer format, RAD software package gets smarter as each bit of information is entered. The intelligent wizard begins to assimilate data at the stage of quantifying the needs, and the information helps to keep the training module on track through the development process. When it comes time to select a training strategy, for example, the wizard will take the information provided on learning requirements into consideration and then it recommends a short list of appropriate strategies from a large pool. Strategies can include lecture, demonstration, procedural game, eg-rule, rule-eg, Socratic dialogue, and so on. Not only will the system recommend strategies but it will also recommend and build a framework of instructional events for instructor-led training or for templates (content objects) in authoring tools that deliver the recommended training.
If the existing infrastructure at the user's site restricts delivery to print and video, the RAD tool will track this constraint and offer advise that is consistent with these media. It will also assist the training developer in upgrading the content as the available delivery system evolves. While it is valuable to identify constraints such as these, it is essential that the training developer have the option of overriding them, and the tool allows such overrides.
Although it is tempting to refer to the tool's wizards in terms of artificial intelligence, they are actually database-driven tools that enable the system to provide either one or a limited number of answers to a given question. Some software tools provide exhaustive lists by way of answers, but the RAD tool has the sophistication to boil these down to facilitate intelligent choices.
With the help of a wizard, trainers (and subject matter experts who may not be CBT experts) can much more easily progress through the development of modules. In the days before intelligent wizards, subject matter experts and trainers often spent valuable (and expensive!) time teaching each other their business. By systematizing decision-making in the development process, this tool allows both to spend their time in their areas of expertise.
While wizards for tasks like writing objectives are readily available, the training developer is not required to use them. The user is not forced to complete unnecessary steps or enter unnecessary information. However, the more frequently the wizards are used within a project, the better is their advice. Even so, the training developer can always override their recommendations.
A step-by-step menu, wizards, advice, tips, tutorials, and other forms of performance support are available, but they do not force you to complete any unnecessary steps. In fact you can customize the RAD tool to provide the basic essentials on one project and then provide the fully detailed process on another.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT PERKS
In addition to feeding back intelligent advice to the training developer, some of the RAD tools that are now available also offer a range of project management perks. When a team is working together on any given training package, the project manager can establish a set of terms that are to be used. This ensures that the team members conform to a common language. In the same way, the project manager can establish a systematic set of procedures that must be followed by the team. Such an approach typically minimizes the need for revisions, thereby increasing efficiency. The project manager can also complete a preliminary cost-benefit analysis and project costing, and use them as a baseline for monitoring the team members' progress.
Another benefit of a leading-edge RAD tool is its ability to manage media over the Internet or a corporate intranet. An organization can store graphics on a particular server, for example, and access them from any number of locations. This enables users to work collaboratively by storing and retrieving media objects over the Internet or corporate Intranet. The rapid analysis and design tool can be used to specify the attributes of all types of media and even create, display, and play back media within the tool so that the developer knows exactly what media is being used.
A project organization feature is used to group project elements into folders for faster assembly and maintenance. The elements which make up the content can be stored anywhere and can automatically be linked to the project folder. Once the rapid analysis and design tool is used, the developer does not have to worry about losing track of files for that project because the project organizer tracks where the elements are stored.
If revisions are required, providing traceability and revision control can become very important. The rapid analysis and design tool has to have this level of sophistication to meet the needs of larger organizations - particularly those that are highly regulated.
INTEGRATION WITH AUTHORING SYSTEMS
In the interests of interoperability and open architecture, developers of the more sophisticated RAD tools are ensuring that they are seamlessly integrated with the major authoring systems: products from Asymetrix, Macromedia, and Aimtech. Rather than having to work in two distinct environments, the training developer is able to produce and populate the courseware framework within a given authoring system.
It is possible for a training developer to use the rapid analysis and design tool to select a short list of templates or content objects for use in his or her organization from lists of hundreds of available templates, thereby assuring a consistent standard and minimizing the costs of managing unnecessary templates. The training developer could use the RAD tool to recommend, pick, and sequence the template into a framework for an instructional sequence. Some templates may consist of a single frame such as a menu frame, title frame, or glossary frame, or it can consist of a sequence of frames. Once a template is sequenced, the framework can be populated from within the RAD tool with text and other media elements necessary to complete most of the production. The course can then be completed by making final adjustments in the authoring system.
Organizations can select the short lists of strategies, templates, and frames from the repository that they are prepared to support within their organizations and then add custom-built strategies to complete their corporate repository. This can be used to ensure compliance to standards and provide one more degree of control of the development and maintenance costs of multimedia, CBT, and WBT.
The ability of a RAD tool to allow the developer to add new strategies to the repository and to link templates and frames to the course components is extremely powerful. Along with project management and other features it turns the RAD tool into a customized production system in a box.
Most of what we have discussed to this point addresses time savings, which is the single most important factor in the success of any initiative to upgrade the training development process in an organization. But time savings is of no use if quality is sacrificed in the process, and quality is the responsibility of those developing the training. This is why a RAD tool must provide, depth, flexibility, and the ability to override restrictions.
GLIMPSING THE FUTURE
We intend for the RAD process to allow us to build large repositories of knowledge indexed at multiple levels of granularity so users can access the knowledge at any level they need. We will be able to build huge databases of information that will be indexed to a low enough level to allow school teachers easy affordable access, while they will be sophisticated enough to suit the needs of multinationals. In educational settings, teachers and students will be able to either create, sell, or exchange the smallest components such as a graphic or lesson plan, or consolidate them into a curriculum, which will then be modifiable for the needs of different jurisdictions.
In the industrial setting, trainers will be able to purchase and sell the small components, such as a video or audio clip, a lesson plan or a set of test items, and they will also be able to package the appropriate content elements into a larger, comprehensive training system.
Organizations will be able to package and distribute full training programs made up of learning objects, so that the purchaser will be able to either use the content as delivered or reassemble the content based on local or individual needs.
As it becomes more and more feasible to make use of information that is stored anywhere along the global communications network, what we need to do is to develop the capability to locate the relevant data from the vast storehouse that is available, and add it to the repertoire of knowledge that is at the disposal of the individual training developer and learners.
In addition to saving time and money, since the RAD tool is platform and delivery system independent, it ensures against the need to constantly upgrade technology. Rapid analysis and design takes a major new step toward organizing and managing content and the elements that are used to develop content so that it is reusable and transferable to different situations, either internally or globally.
Gerry Costello is the founder and president of Applied Courseware Technology of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. He has over 17 years' experience in computer-assisted learning. The company's products, Integreator and Multi-media Integreator, are rapid analysis and design training productivity tools. E-mail: email@example.com Phone: toll free (888) 799-7979; Fax: (506) 458-2629.