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Designing a Computer-Based Training Process

In any good architecture, the vision drives the details, and the details shape the vision. Therefore, a good outcome depends on a good design. It requires knowledge of how people learn, and it deserves a lot of time and care.

Here is a brief summary of issues to consider. You notice there are no numbered steps in the process. As you consider the various steps and issues, you'll find yourself rethinking your initial perceptions, clarifying objectives, and reshaping your vision. The following items are those you need to visit and revisit as you go through the process:

  • Set your sights. Envision the solution in terms of optimizing learning, the users' expectations, the client's business requirements, and your own constraints. This includes the following:

• Time and money constraints on design, development, testing, and dissemination

• Life expectancy of the document and maintenance requirements

• Distribution channel(s)

• Level of multimedia

• Level of interactivity

• Business goals and learning objectives

• The minimal computer configuration for target users

• Available authoring tools and multimedia editing tools

  • Plan the users' experience. Eschew the old-fashioned model of the user as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge. Learning means interacting with the material so that it's meaningful to the users. You're designing an internal experience as much as Alfred Hitchcock designed a movie. Not quite as disturbing an experience, one would hope, but more significant for the individual. Determine the following:

• Appropriate mood to support the purpose and appeal to the users (mood can be reflected in tone, graphics, colors, and fonts)

• Prerequisite knowledge you can expect from your users

• Big-picture learning goals of the project

• Specific and observable learning objectives the users must reach

• Measurements your client will use to consider whether the training is successful

• Size of the average learning module

• Whether users should go through the modules in a predetermined sequence or access individual modules as needed

• How users will navigate from one module to the next

  • Design and test. Never assume to know your users' preferences. Most learning is complex cognitive, psychological, and social. It's different for everyone. A sampling of users will help to guide your decisions. The purpose of a good design is to prevent frustrating and wasteful rewrites. So somewhere along the way (hopefully before you start developing), you'll need to stop designing and "freeze" these fundamental decisions:

• Create a storyboard for one module, proposing a "look-and-feel" for the CBT.

• Get feedback from target users and buy-in from all stakeholders.

  • Make a paper or computer-generated prototype of each section, representing the navigation elements.

• Test the prototype with target users and get feedback from them as well as buy-in from stakeholders.

• Make a prototype of each section.

• Once again, get feedback from users and buy-in from stakeholders.

Document the important decisions to protect yourself from flaky clients who may forget what they agreed to.

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