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

pixel.gif (807 bytes) Twin paths - routes to WBT development
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YOU HAVE TWO MAIN CHOICES in the software tools you use to develop web-based training courses. You can use a CBT authoring system that supports output to the web or you can use general-purpose web development tools. Conceivably, you could use both. Anyway, here’s how they compare.

figure 3 - a multiple answer question

Fig 3: This question utilises check boxes and a little JavaScript

What they can do
CBT authoring systems are designed to facilitate the creation of computer-based training. Many of the most common ingredients of interaction, navigation, presentation and student management are available as built-in options or templates. And if they are not, chances are you can add them in yourself.

Authoring systems do not, however, satisfy all needs. There will be times when what you want is highly specialised – maybe a complex simulation or an intelligent tutoring environment. You’re going to have to program these using a general purpose language, such as C.

Web development tools do not come with built-in CBT features. If you want something as simple as a multi-choice question, you’ve got to build it yourself. Having said that, you can create templates and save yourself repeating the effort next time round.

Web tools are going to be just as restrictive as authoring systems for your specialist needs. Even scripting languages like JavaScript can only go so far and, to build a complex simulation, you’re talking real programming, although it may be in a web-friendly language like Java.

Skills you will need
Both CBT authoring systems and web development tools require a degree of logical thinking, attention to detail and technical know-how. Both environments can have user-friendly interfaces (although CBT authoring systems probably go a little further in this respect) and both allow high-level scripting to do the fiddly bits. But doing the really tricky stuff is going to be a full time programmer’s job in either case.

If you are already an expert user of an authoring system you will probably want to carry on using the same tool to develop WBT. If you don’t have this experience then there are some added benefits to learning web development tools – the same tools can be used for other purposes, like creating web sites, and there’s a much broader market for your skills.

Cost
Authoring tools cost real money, although they probably give good value for that money. If you’re going to be developing a lot of courseware, the tools are not going to be a major proportion of the cost.

Web tools can be as simple as Windows Notepad or a shareware HTML editor, although for a few hundred pounds you can obtain much more user-friendly tools, which protect you from having to do any coding. Why are web tools so cheap? Because there’s a very large market for them and the web has a history of giving things away which people would happily pay money for (like browsers!).

Browser compatibility
When authoring systems output your content in web format they may do it in two ways. They may create straightforward HTML that is compatible with all current versions of the major browsers. More likely is that they’ll require additional functionality in the form of browser plug-ins and ActiveX controls (like Macromedia’s Shockwave for Authorware or Asymetrix’s Neuron) or Java applets.

Does this matter? After all, many web sites do the same. Well it need not matter, but it certainly can do. One of the problems is that you cannot count on users already having the plug-ins or Java-compatible browsers (although both can be solved with a little downloading and at no expense).

A bigger problem, particularly with intranets, is that the IT departments of many organisations do not want to support this functionality, and may actively prohibit them. This will change in time, but IT policy changes very slowly (witness the time it took for Windows 95 to replace 3.1 in many large corporates and then only with year 2000 concerns to drive it on).

CBT Authoring
Tools

Web Development
Tools

capabilities

nearly all required capabilities built-in

training-specific capabilities have to be created

skills

fair degree of technical ability required

fair degree of technical ability required

cost

reasonable cost insignificant cost

browser compatibility

often require plug-ins or Java to achieve full functionality output will normally work in standard browsers

Fig 4: Comparing CBT authoring tools and web development tools

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