Web-Based Training (WBT)

Explore RKSI Web Based Training

1. What is Web-Based Training?

Web-based training (WBT) is an innovative approach to distance learning in which computer-based training (CBT) is transformed by the technologies and methodologies of the World Wide Web, the Internet, and intranets. Web-based training presents livecontent, as fresh as the moment and modified at will, in a structure allowing self-directed, self-paced instruction in any topic. WBT is media-rich training fully capable of evaluation, adaptation, and remediation, all independent of computer platform.

Web-based training is an ideal vehicle for delivering training to individuals anywhere in the world at any time. Advances in computer network technology and improvements in bandwidth will usher in capabilities for unlimited multimedia access. Web browsers that support 3-D virtual reality, animation, interactions, chat and conferencing, and real-time audio and video will offer unparalleled training opportunities. With the tools at hand today, we can craft highly effective WBT to meet the training needs of a diverse population. Web-based performance support systems (WBPSS) further help today’s busy workers perform their jobs by integrating WBT, information systems, and job aids into unified systems available on demand.

The current focus of WBT development is on learning how to use the available tools and organize content into well-crafted teaching systems. Training designers are still struggling with issues of user interface design and programming for high levels of interaction. Unfortunately, there are few examples of good WBT design visible on the public Internet. As instructional designers and training analysts learn how to write and produce WBT, and as training vendors come to realize the overwhelming advantages of this delivery method, expect an explosion in training offerings available over the public Internet and private intranets.

2. Advantages

Web-based training may be compared to current implementations of computer-based training (CBT) in quality of training outcomes. But what advantage would a training vendor have in establishing a web training site versus producing a CD-ROM or client/server-based training system? What considerations would favor CBT over WBT? Let’s look at some of the advantages.

Advantages

  • easy delivery of training to users
  • opportunities for group training (asynchronous and synchronous) as well as individual training
  • multi-platform capabilities (Windows, Mac, UNIX, PDA, wireless devices)
  • easy updating of content
  • quicker turnaround of finished product
  • requires less technical support
  • billing options by user ID, number of accesses, date/time of access
  • access is controllable
  • options for installations on private networks for security or greater bandwidth
  • options to link with other training systems
  • multitasking capability suitable for electronic performance support systems (EPSS)
  • vast market for distributed training
  • growing level of acceptance

3. Quality in Web-Based Training

Everyone involved in taking, producing, and delivering online learning would agree that quality is paramount; however, objectively measuring quality is difficult and infrequently undertaken. Quality is an unstated expectation, yet we rarely use a formal process for assessing quality of training products. Poor design, project under funding, overly optimistic schedules, and technical barriers are all enemies of quality. So is the apathy of buyers that just want some training, any training, and developers that focus on the quantity of offerings and an impressive client list. A methodical approach to evaluation can help remove subjective biases and achieve a more authoritative analysis.

We tend to judge quality only from the perspective of our own domain. Consider the views of all the stakeholders: the training manager; the designer/developer; the system administrator/IT manager that will host the application; and, of course, the end users. In some cases quality measures are of no concern to one stakeholder while of considerable importance to another. Learner-centered design would propose that you make all decisions exclusively for the learners benefit. Yet, all stakeholders must be partners if success is to be achieved. Since development and delivery are a team effort, one must weigh all viewpoints on what constitutes quality.

Here are some value statements about web-based training quality. We consider these when planning to develop WBT.

  • Section 508 compliant
  • The training meets the objectives
  • learner-centered
  • provides high levels of interactivity
  • engaging
  • accommodates individual learning styles
  • uses media effectively
  • helps users apply learning productively
  • adheres to the Instructional Systems Design (ISD) or similar model
  • presents information in an organized, coherent manner while allowing user control of learning (cognitive usability)
  • presents extended learning opportunities
  • has completed post-implementation evaluations and subsequent revision
  • demonstrates good usability through excellent user interface design
  • continually adapts to the users knowledge or skills
  • validates learning at each curriculum event
  • uses group-enabling technologies (mail lists, chat, forums, multicasts) only where they are most effective
  • promotes a positive user experience with computer technology
  • records student data, such as login information, scores, usage statistics, prescriptions for learning, etc.
  • will not exceed practical bandwidth limitations of the network
  • easy to access, easy to install
  • ensures best value for training costs
  • content is accurate and timely
  • follows industry standards for interoperability

4. The Development Process

The success of Web-based training (WBT) and Web-based performance support system (WBPSS) projects depends on fulfillment of all steps of the development process, from conception to implementation and evaluation. Instructional Systems Design/Development (ISD) models a comprehensive training design approach used to design classroom and computer-based training. The steps outlined here are similar to those of ISD, though vastly simplified. I attempt to define responsibilities and job titles which might be appropriate for each of the steps of the development process.

  • Client Needs Analysis
    Determine what the client wants to accomplish with WBT or WBPSS. What are the explicit outcomes of the project? Will the product provide individual instruction while cutting training costs? Will it replace or supplement existing training? Does the client want to integrate training into a larger information system? What will this project cost? As a result of intense client contact, this needs analysis delineates client needs and outcomes that satisfy those needs. It is at this initial stage that the developer and client must decide if WBT / WBPSS is the best choice. Responsibility: project manager, instructional designers
  • Tasks/User Analysis
    What exactly does the user/learner need to know to perform on the job? Should the training improve skills, knowledge, and/or attitudes? What components of an informational system should be accessible to the user to improve job performance? What are the range of existing computer skills and educational levels of the target users? The tasks/user analysis probes each of these questions thoroughly to understand exactly how to structure WBT/WBPSS to meet the users needs. Responsibility: project manager, subject matter experts, instructional designers.
  • Technical Analysis
    Often, the first questions asked concern the clients and users computing resources. Unfortunately, sometimes this is the focus for project development. The purpose of the technical analysis is to establish the baseline technical capabilities. Most appropriate is to define, with the client�s assistance, a baseline projected to the time of implementation and including capabilities added expressly for this project. For example, the client may be installing fiber optic networks and wants to use multimedia to take advantage of the increased network speeds. From the technical analysis the “toolbox” of technologies can be defined. The instructional designer will then design the course or performance support system to take advantage of technological capabilities in an instructionally sound way. Responsibility: project manager, systems analysts.
  • Interface Design
    Interface design is one of the most critical phases of the development process. The user interface must provide all the features needed for the user to navigate the application as intuitively and transparently as possible. User-centered design dictates that the interface provide features that allow the learner to control the learning process. The client may request features that should be discussed thoroughly at this phase. This will help minimize “feature creep” which can destroy an interface design and derail a project in later phases.The user analysis should define the range of user computer experience so that the interface designer may choose design elements most appropriate for the target users. Interface designers best understand the complex, non-linear way learners will use the product. Interface designers work with instructional designers and client representatives to define metaphors and the interface to support those metaphors and, if necessary, mesh with established client design standards. The result of the interface design process is a dynamic prototype interface ready for testing. Responsibility: user interface designers, instructional designers.
  • Usability Testing
    Test the interface on real end users or those with similar skill and knowledge levels. Through careful observation, scientific analysis, and subjective evaluation the effectiveness of the interface can be determined. Most likely, this is an iterative process requiring testing, refinement, and more testing. The tested interface prototype becomes the basis for template and technical standards design. Responsibility: usability engineers, human factors experts, or cognitive psychologists.
  • Standards Definition and Design Document
    For the benefit of all processes that follow, it is wise to prepare a design document. The technical team provide input into the technical standards which include required software, bandwidth limitations, software settings, file naming conventions, and technical details required by the interface. The project site manager sets standards for site maintenance and internal security. The Webmaster should specify procedures and standards which must be followed for server compatibility, external security, and user access control. Instructional designers provide an overview of the prior analyses, learning/performance objectives, and instructional design to meet those objectives. Responsibility: instructional designers, systems analysts
  • Template Design
    The technical team prepares a template based on the tested interface design. This template includes blank pages with pre-positioned and coded navigational controls and repeating screen elements. The template may also include a library of models of interactive screen designs. Afterwards, the components of the template may be duplicated and expanded by other developers. Responsibility: systems analysts, programmers.
  • Instructional Design
    The instructional design process is one where a trained, highly experienced designer organizes and presents content in such a way that the end user meets his or her learning goals. The instructional designer (ID) must know the subject matter, with the aid of a subject matter expert (SME), and then know the teaching methods best suited for the medium and the learner. Much effort must be placed on “chunking” the information, culling it down to the essential and presenting it in discrete informational units. IDs prepare storyboards from which interactive screens may be programmed. With the advent of WYSIWYG Web page editors, IDs can now prepare rough screens, ready for finishing by programmers. Typically, the client and SME will review and approve the storyboards for accuracy and applicability. Responsibility: instructional designers with input from subject matter experts.
  • Media Creation
    Based on the storyboards, media specialists create the variety of content that will make up the product: text, still graphics, movies, animations, music, narrations, databases, Shockwave content. Media must conform to the standards specified in the design document and be fully compatible with the interface. Responsibility: instructional designers, graphic designers, videographers, sound designers, programmers.
  • Document Processing
    This is the step where subject matter content is formatted into an HTML document�of course, here HTML really means any of the Web technologies for creating pages. Typically, the content elements may be placed in a template page copy using a WYSIWYG editor. HTML converters can be used to automate the document construction process. Since this has become such an easy process, programmers are not necessarily needed for this step. IDs may play a role in this step in that the storyboard and initial HTML document might be similar or one and the same. Responsibility: instructional designers, programmers.
  • Server-side Scripting
    Server-side applications may be needed for creating dynamic documents, performance tracking, student record keeping, and security measures. Documents that include dynamic information (network status, product inventories, legislation status, etc.) offer rich, timely information to the learner. Additionally, the WBT/WBPSS may need to log usage and track student performance. A programmer can write scripts or backend applications that perform these and other tasks. Responsibility: programmers.
  • Site Maintenance
    Project documents and supporting files can become scattered and unmanageable. It is important that a project site manager take control early in the project to establish procedures for everyone to follow in supplying and maintaining project files. There are many site management tools available to help the responsible person keep control of files. Responsibility: programmers, system administrator.
  • Web Server Administration
    Once the project files are placed on the server, someone has to configure the server for content types used, monitor courseware/performance system usage, maintain user accounts or access privileges, maintain supporting databases, and monitor and update external hyperlinks. Responsibility: system administrator, Webmaster.
  • Evaluation and Updating
    Were the outcomes defined in the client needs analysis and tasks/user analysis achieved? Ongoing testing and evaluation will point out unforeseen weakness in the training product. It may become necessary to redesign individual pages or segments of content should the content become dated and new information become available. Usability issues should have been addressed completely during initial testing of the interface, but added features or content may require interface modification and new testing. The advantages of a Web-based system will become evident during this last phase as updates become easier and faster to implement than with traditional, custom training applications and information systems.