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WBT: doing it for yourselfpixel.gif (807 bytes)

pixel.gif (807 bytes) Battle of the BTs - CBT and WBT go head to head
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LET'S START BY TRYING to determine the real difference between computer-based training as it commonly manifests itself and the delivery of training using web technology. We can conduct this analysis in glorious 3D, using the dimensions of distribution, delivery and development.

figure 1 - a simple multiple choice question

Fig 1: A simple multiple choice question built in standard HTML and using
frames to allow the question and feedback to be seen alongside eachother

Some readers will be reluctant to admit that they go back far enough to remember the days of mainframe CBT – online training delivered from a large central computer to dumb terminals. Who said that if you wait long enough everything goes full circle?

But most CBT in the past ten years has been off-line, typically using CD-ROMs but, before that, laserdisc or even floppies.

Web-based training is distributed online over an intranet or the World Wide Web. That is its primary characteristic. Having said that, the situation is not clear cut. CBT can be, and has been distributed over local area networks without an intranet and WBT courses can be put on to a CD-ROM if required.

What difference does it make whether the training is offline or online? The answer, a lot.

Offline courses do not suffer from bandwidth limitations. They can employ the full multimedia repertoire, including animation, sound and video. On the World Wide Web, multimedia is still a big disappointment, even using the latest streaming technology.

Online courses, on the other hand, can be delivered anywhere in the world where the Internet is available and to any computer on an organisation’s intranet. As soon as it’s finished, the course is available. Updates are instant and inexpensive. Not so with CD-ROMs, as we all know. And whereas CBT tends to be stand-alone, WBT can incorporate interaction with other humans – tutors, subject matter experts and fellow learners. This is where Internet tools like email, discussion forums and chat rooms can prove really handy.

CBT courses are delivered using runtime software peculiar to the authoring system or programming language used to create it. Sometimes license fees have to be paid for this software. Sometimes it is cross-platform – typically for the PC and Macintosh – but often it is platform-specific.

WBT courses are delivered using a browser. Browsers are free and are supposed to be broadly compatible. In fact there are plenty of niggling differences between brands and versions. On the whole, though, WBT courses will run on practically any computer without cost.

Browsers are multi-purpose, familiar and easy-to-use. They also have a great deal of built-in navigational functionality – functionality that has to be hand-built in a proprietary runtime program.

CBT courses, as we have said, tend to be developed using specialist authoring systems that incorporate a wide range of tools and features designed to support a single task – computer-based training. Nearly anything you can imagine wanting within your courses can be accomplished.

WBT courses can be constructed using the massive array of web development tools on the market, although few of these tools were designed with training in mind (Macromedia's new Dreamweaver Attain being an interesting exception).

is typically …

is typically …


no bandwidth constraints
self-study only
easily maintainable
widely accessible
permits collaboration


through proprietary runtime software:
sometimes with license fees
through web browsers:


with specialist authoring tools with generic web development tools

Fig 2: Comparing CBT and WBT

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1999. All rights reserved.                                Last revised 21/6/99