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Authoring Web-Based Training

by Ron Kurtus (revised 4 April 2004)

(This material is based on a paper presented at the Society of Technical Communicators Region 6 Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 24 October 1997. It has been updated to reflect new trends and tools.)

Web-Based Training (WBT) is a hot item these days. Companies want to provide training, instructional material and manuals over their private Intranets or via the World Wide Web. If you have been writing paper-based or online technical documentation, you may now be asked to put that information into the form of WBT or eLearning.

Before developing a WBT title or converting some other document into WBT, you must be familiar with the authoring tool to be used to format the content for interactive Web delivery and know the restrictions for delivering material over the Web.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Relevant terms

Major terms to be considered are Web-Based Training and authoring.

What is Web-Based Training?

In its strictest sense Web-Based Training is the communication of information over the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) with the objective of instructing or training the user. It is also called eLearning or online learning.

WBT is actually a form of Computer-Based Training (CBT) that uses the Web or company Intranet as the delivery medium instead of using disks or CD-ROM's. Both CBT and WBT are part of a larger classification called Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS), which includes such communication forms as online manuals and Windows Help.

Instead of holding to the strict training definition of WBT, the tools and techniques explained will include other forms of EPSS on the Web, such as work procedures, service manuals, help and guides.

What is authoring?

CBT, WBT or eLearning authoring differs from standard documentation in that considerations must be made for the special features of the authoring program or delivery tool used. In some cases, the technical communicator may be required to become more involved in programming the authoring software than in writing the content.

Authoring can be divided into three major steps or phases:

  1. Planning,
  2. Writing the content, and
  3. Putting the material into an interactive HTML format.

Even if you are not involved in the programming, you still must be cognizant of the delivery medium and its nuances.

WBT authoring tools

The types of WBT authoring tools include:

CBT on the web with a plug-in

Computer-Based Training written in the latest versions of such tools as Authorware and Toolbook may be viewed on the Web through the use of special plug-in that the user must have installed in his or her Internet browser. The plug-in can usually be downloaded for free and is automatically installed in the user’s browser.

The Authorware plug-in, Shockwave, may be downloaded from www.macromedia.com. Toolbook uses a plug-in called Neuron, which may be downloaded from www.asymetrix.com. When the user has the plug-in installed, the CBT may be viewed as WBT. Unfortunately, large file sizes can considerably slow down the process.

If you plan to author WBT by developing a CBT project and using a plug-in, it is advisable to minimize or even eliminate the use of special effects and to make each module file size as small as possible. Users simply do not like to wait minutes for a file to download or to have pauses in responses to interaction.

Direct WBT programs

Asymetrix Toolbook II is built for use both as CBT and as WBT. You can develop a WBT project with special templates for your Web pages. Toolbook II uses the Java language to form navigation buttons and accomplish interactions and online testing.

Docent’s IBTauthor is a dedicated "Internet-Based Training" program. A demonstration may be accessed at ibt.testprep.com. Several other companies sell WBT tools and applications.

Converting existing documents

Many word processors and desktop publishing applications, such as Adobe PageMaker or FrameMaker, will convert their documents into the HTML format. This, of course, does not make the document WBT, but it is a start for developing content.

Companies that sell tools for developing Windows Help now provide converters to change the help files into HTML, including jumps. WinHelp files have been used for simple CBT, and they now can be used as simple WBT also.

We can’t overlook programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint that can convert presentations to HTML and provide a low-interaction WBT.

Considerations when writing content

Considerations when authoring WBT are:

Readability versus irritability

Since it is neither easy nor necessarily pleasant to read from a computer monitor, readability is an important factor. The educational material should be in small chunks of information. Sentences should be short, as well as paragraphs. Also, people get irritated when having to scroll through reams of material in a WBT, so try to have only a screen of information at a time.

Navigation versus boredom

Page-turners can be boring. You want to include interaction, variety, and perhaps even some surprises to keep your user’s attention and interest. Some writers provide so much interaction, jumps and use of hypertext references that the learner can get lost within the WBT. Navigation and the ability to know where you are within the program are important.

Bandwidth versus multimedia

Internet bandwidth limitations discourage the use of such multimedia effects as video, audio, animation, and elaborate graphical design. The limitations may not be as severe with company Intranets, but they are still a factor to consider.

Browsers

Finally, some WBT features may not work on older ( i.e. pre-1997) Internet browsers. Although most people and organizations use either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, even early versions of those browsers can cause havoc with special WBT effects.

Summary

WBT is a subset of CBT. Authoring is both writing content and programming or using special tools to create the Web pages. You need to be consider the view of the user concerning such issues as readability, navigation, bandwidth and browser factors.


Communicating with the user helps to make a good product.


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

eLearning Resources

Books

Top-rated books on eLearning


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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