BENEFITS OF INTERACTIVE MULTIMEDIA COURSEWARE
by Steven Hick Ph.D.
Professor, Carleton University, and
President, TRICAN MULTIMEDIA SOLUTIONS INC.
Copyright ã 1997 by TRICAN MULTIMEDIA SOLUTIONS INC.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.
Benefits of Multimedia Courseware
This section provides short descriptions of the key benefits of learning using interactive multimedia courseware. The list is meant to assist in helping you think about how the adoption of multimedia for training and education in your organisation could enhance the learning process and help you achieve measurable performance results. The following are common benefits in using multimedia courseware.
Numerous studies over the years have shown that interactive multimedia learning takes less time, is enjoyed more and increases learning. In a review of numerous meta-analysis studies Najjar (1996:30) found that "learning was higher when information was presented via computer-based multimedia systems than traditional classroom lectures".
Interactivity is mutual action between the learner, the learning system, and the learning material. Numerous studies have found that interactivity has a strong positive effect on learning (Bosco, 1986, Fletcher, 1989, 1990, Stanfford, 1990). For example, Bosco (1986) reviewed 75 learning studies and found that learners learn faster, and have better attitudes toward learning when using interactive multimedia.
Multimedia courseware on CD-ROM can be used at work on the desktop or at a learning centre, at home, while travelling, or to enhance facilitated management development programs. Multimedia courseware can also be used on networks, Intranets or the Internet. These distributed learning approaches allow for even more flexibility, but in the cases of Internets will involve much lower quality images and will preclude the use of video, at least in the near future. Multimedia courseware off-loads repetitive training tasks and frees facilitators to focus on company-specific, department-specific, or even team-specific issues.
Each topic or section can stand alone, so managers or trainers can delve deeply into the topic areas they need to learn, and skip over the ones they don't. In many cases applications include the option to custom build the application for your specific use where you can choose modules, and even edit the content in some fields.
It is capable of presenting true-to-life situations that learners face every day. Adults are very practical learners—they learn best when faced with real problems that have real consequences. Decision tree simulation, video simulations or simple animations allow learners to learn-by-viewing, learn-by-doing or learn-by-coaching. All are effective methods for developing practical skill and increasing information retention.
All learners learn the same principles and skills. Computer-based courseware typically forces instructional designers to better organise and structure learning materials, and this alone can result in learning advantages.
Learners can turn to the program when situations arise on the job, or when they are faced with new or increased responsibilities. This is critical, since research has shown that learning is enhanced and better retained when the topic is relevant to current needs.
Interactive learning with live-action video, audio, graphics, feedback, expert advice, and questions and answers keep learners interested and reinforces skills. Because it is exciting, challenging, and fun to use, it encourages learners to return to the program again and again. Through continual practice, learning is absorbed and integrated into daily performance.
Multimedia courseware may have higher up-front development costs, but overall studies have shown that it is less expensive and more effective than traditional classroom learning only. There can also savings on expensive and time-consuming travel, lodging, facility rentals, the loss of productivity caused by sending learners away, and other expenses. The ability to practice new concepts in a risk-free environment improves learners' skills and ability. When using a built in course management system which collects and analyses learner delivery and performance data substantial administrative time savings result.
What Can Multimedia Do For Me?
What is Multimedia courseware?
Multimedia courseware is many things to many people. In general terms, multimedia courseware is the use of different communications mediums within a single computer program used to present information. By communications mediums, we mean audio for music, sound effects, or voice-over narration, still photographs and / or graphics to help the end user understand the message that is being presented, video to further explain or illustrate ideas.
Video may be something as simple as a person speaking to the user much the same as a newscaster on TV does, or, it could also be the capture of real events such as an automobile accident caught on video tape.
Another form of video is animation. Animation is used to illustrate concepts and ideas that could not be created and captured in real life. For example, if you wanted to illustrate the human circulatory system showing the heart pumping blood throughout a body, you would have to re-create this using animation techniques as it would be impossible to illustrate this with a real live person.
To tie all of these mediums together, we use simple text based information to further communicate with the reader what we want them to understand or learn.
What is Multimedia courseware used for?
Originally multimedia was used for computer games. Wild sound effects, colourful graphics and animation sequences really brought computer game playing to life. But now, multimedia has been extended into dozens of different applications including information kiosks used to educate consumers, Computer Based Training (CBT) and tutorials used to train personnel on technical subjects, slide show presentations and dozens of other programs. The benefits of incorporating multimedia elements into a computer program include the ability to better explain concepts and support the learning experience with the use of senses other than just sight. Dual coding theory maintains that learning is better when information is referentially processed through two channels (i.e. text and sound) than when information is processed through one channel. Learners can create more cognitive paths allowing quicker retrieval of information.
What is CBT?
CBT, or Computer Based Training is the presentation of training and education materials via the computer. CBT can take many forms, from simple presentation of information in a text based format, much like the printed page in a textbook, all the way to a full-blown multimedia courseware presentation complete with text, images, video, audio, interaction and user feedback.
The level of sophistication depends on your particular needs. Maybe you just want to update your current employees. Or, maybe you have introduced new techniques that will require considerable re-training of your staff. Either way, CBT can be a very cost-effective method of delivery.
Examples of where CBT may be utilised for training or education include:
It should be understood that CBT in itself, does not always constitute a total training solution. CBT should be considered a component of your complete training system, but for total effectiveness, other mediums are also often employed, such as print based support materials, stand-up presentation and reference materials.
Why use Multimedia CBT over video for training and education?
Video is a wonderful medium for displaying certain types of "broadcast" information. The key word here is broadcast, because that is what video was designed for, to be viewed by a large number of people at the same time. While this may be effective for some training and education, it often lacks one of the major elements required by many individuals for effective training and education; a simple hyper-navigation system that allows the user to decide where they will go next.
Video is linear by nature, meaning that, like a television show, it is meant to be viewed from beginning to end. Moving to certain portions of a video tape is really not all that easy without a lot of back and forth searching. A well designed hyper-navigation system however allows the user to "path" their learning by branching off to other topics when they are ready to continue.
This hyper-navigational element addresses the fact that most people learn at different speeds and it allows the user to progress at their own rate, based on prior subject knowledge and needs.
Another major benefit of (well designed) multimedia courseware over video is user interactivity. This allows the student to delve as far into a subject as they wish. For example, a training course on the handling of hazardous waste may make reference to the chemical DDT. One student may know what DDT is, whereas another may not. The second student may wish to explore a little further if there were a hypertext link to an explanation of DDT. If this were the case, the second student could find out more about DDT to aid in their understanding, while the first student could skip right over that area if they wished. This is a very powerful feature in a learning tool as it allows students to work at their own pace and thereby avoiding the possibility of going too fast for some, and too slow for others.
How can multimedia courseware help me?
By adding multimedia elements to your message, you greatly increase the likelihood of the user absorbing more of what it is you are trying to say. Whether your production is an information based kiosk explaining the benefits of your product to shoppers in a shopping mall, or a training and education program to bring your employees up to speed on new company procedures, the addition of audio, video and graphics adds greatly to your message. One of the best ways to illustrate the benefits of this is to turn the volume off the next time a set of commercials comes on TV. Yes, you can probably figure out what it is the advertiser is saying, but how much more of the message comes through when you turn the volume back up? The same holds true for your message.
How is it created?
Multimedia courseware applications are authored or produced, much the same way as a movie is developed. First we must have some idea of what it is we are trying to communicate, much like a script does for a movie. In the case of multimedia applications, we often utilise some type of storyboard or flowchart to detail the primary elements of a production.
Next step is to determine what type of equipment will be available, or required to run the completed program. Multimedia programs require faster computers, larger memories and more hard drive space than the old DOS based programs ever did. An understanding of what will be considered minimum system requirements is very important. Based on this understanding, we can then determine what is and is not possible while developing for a certain minimum standard.
Next, we need content. Content is the actual information that will be placed into the program. This can take many forms including typewritten text, text in electronic format, hardcopy or electronically formatted images, video and audio clips. Depending on the current status and file formats required for authoring, we often have to digitize the audio, video and graphical elements for placement into the computer.
Next, we begin the actual construction of the project by writing computer instructions, or code to perform whatever actions we want the program to be able to perform. Elements such as buttons to control user navigation, sounds, video and other operations are then added to the program. This is what is known as the User Interface, or UI.
After the program is developed, we then have to test it on typical users. The testing involved is designed to make sure that the program is intuitive to the untrained user and performs without any major problems.
How much does it cost?
You'll notice I've left this question for last. That's because, it is one of the items that really shouldn't be considered until both parties understand exactly what it is they want to create. Although it's very common, and natural to want to know right from the start what it is going to cost to develop a project, it is simply impossible until a full understanding of what the project is going look like is shared by both the client and the developer.
The costs associated with multimedia courseware development are based on a number of factors. These include the amount of information that has to be entered into the program, what multimedia elements will be used, what form is the content in right now, and so on. And certainly, the biggest factor in development costs is the amount of time that it will take to complete the project.
Okay then, how long will it take?
There are no hard and fast rules, but again based on the level of interactivity and the type of multimedia elements included in the final product, development time can range anywhere from 50 hours to 300 hours of production time for each hour of finished product.