Designing Computer Based Training

Recent popularity and consumer interest for individualized multimedia computer based programs within technical education training industries has created a demand for high quality software products. This demand has stimulated corporate training departments and educational institutions to invest large capitol resources for software and hardware to satisfy customer needs.

Some training managers have chosen to outsource the responsibilities of the computer software development to expert programmers, experienced in this technology. But, many of the programmers developing the software do not have a background in curriculum development and instruction. Other managers have responded by hiring full time educators with computer skills and related professional technical experience to create or supervise the development of these computer based

training programs. To aid these educators, software developers have created various levels of authoring and multimedia programs for those companies who prefer to write their own customized programs.

The primary goal of this paper is to provide a condensed review of the basic design principles necessary to create a quality computer based programs for technical training applications. This paper can then be used by industry as a resource or a supplemental guide for professional educators in other technical training programs at industrial organizations, associations, and schools. It will identify educational design principles for text and graphics within the software programs.

Additionally, this paper will reference relevant research to support important concepts and learning theories as they apply to the learner. This paper will confirm my understanding regarding the use of instructional computer based training programs to teach technical information by reinforcing key principles.

Core Instructional Events
The core instructional events should be identified to be sure they are included during the development of the multimedia authoring software package. The beginning of the program should gain attention to the learner to make them interested and motivate to continue. The learning objectives should be stated to identify specifically what new knowledge the learner will acquire. The learning should be guided with clear directions and instructions of what steps and processes the student will be expected to take during the program. There should be a link to prior knowledge, if possible. In other words the program should build upon previously learned information. For example, a electronics course would build upon basic electrical ohm’s law theory.

The software program should provide new and useful information for the learner. Otherwise, there would be no reason for them to continue using the program. There should be a required response on the screen, forcing learning involvement. This may be just a simple prompt to go to the next screen, or it could be a mini-quiz. By giving a quiz occasionally during the program, you are require continued response from the user. This will provide feedback to them that they are actually learning something. The quiz will enhance retention and learner interest.
After the instructional materials are produced, the process of formative evaluation begins. The purpose of formative evaluation is to improve the materials through an organized system of field tests. Once the program is complete, a summative evaluation procedure should be developed to provide information and feedback on the final effectiveness of the materials.

Components of Good Graphic Screens
Keep the graphic simple as possible. Distilling the message to its barest essentials is important. Create an outline that you will be followed during the computer program with sub-components that clarify complex ideas. Follow your original outline throughout the program. The message on the computer program should sequence the outline while bringing materials together to provide the opportunity for understanding.

Keep the graphic organized while creating a path for the eye to follow consistently across every screen. Remember that students from western cultures have learned to read from left to right. This means that when designing the program, the text and graphics will be read from the left side of the page first. Recognize that if a graphic is divided into quadrants, most readers read the upper left quadrant first, and the lower right last. Thus, do not place essential information in the lower right quadrant.
Make some component of the graphic dominant. Use color and highlighting so that main ideas stand out. Use clip art graphics as cues to students, so they do not waste time trying to figure out the message.

Divide the space in an interesting way. Students are easily turned off by graphics that consistently present information the same way on each screen. Use the different quadrants of the screen to make the student think cognitively of the topic. But, remember that the graphic must lead the eye to the written text, not distract from the message.

Frame Protocol and Functionality Zones
There are three typical types of instructional computer frames , they are:
* Instructional
* Practice-Question
* Transitional.

Instructional frames provide instructional content to the student. Practice and Question frames provide interactive opportunities for the students to practice what they have learned at whatever level is appropriate such as recall, recognition, or application. The Transitional Frames bridge lesson information between major parts of the program.

Frame protocol is the consistent designation swof various zones as applied to each frame. These include the:
* Header Zone
* Information Zone
* Directions Zone.

The header zone or headline lets the student know where they are in the program. A headline is used here to draw the student’s attention to the topic of the particular screen. A headline mentally prepares the student for what follows and serves to reinforce the main idea. Present one idea per graphic is also critical. This principle helps to focus the reader and to avoid any distraction. Begin with a large font at first to capture the attention and help students concentrate on the subject.

The information zone provides the instructional materials either through text, illustrations, or both. Graphic types within in this zone can be static (still) pictures, graphs, charts, or dynamic video clips

The directions zone presents directions to the learner of what actions are required or available. This zone is normally found on the bottom or on the side of the screen. It provides the student with directional options such as forward, backward, or to the beginning.

Graphics to Enhance the Learning Environment
The graphic can be used to clarify the subject material while emphasizing a point by highlighting a particular piece of information. The graphic becomes another method of simplifying a complex topic.

Adding variety to the computerized lesson is an effective way to keep students interested. Sustaining interest is difficult when all the student sees or hears is words. The use of good graphics can also help students to change focus, particularly helpful if the material being presented is complex or difficult to follow. Furthermore, good graphics help students to mentally record and remember main points during complex material.
Graphics should only be used when appropriate. They should match the learner, content, and learning tasks. They should not distract, but they should serve their function. There are four types of graphics found within computer based training programs, they are:
* Cosmetic
* Motivational
* Attention-getting
* Presentation Graphics.

Cosmetic graphics do not carry instructional value, but helps make the materials more attractive to the learner. However, these graphics should be designed with a true motivational impact to keep the learners interested in the program while giving a finished, polished, and commercial image. They should be planned early and not added to give length or quantity. They can be used to provide useful backgrounds and transitional screens.

Motivational graphics provide meaningful context for learning while increasing the innate motivation of the learner. They should avoid distraction while increasing interest. Photographs and video can be included into these screens to trigger emotion and affective responses from the learner.

Attention-getting graphics are designed to catch the eye of the learner and pull them back to the instruction of a particular task. The opposite or enemy to attention-getting graphics are boring repetitive and monotonous screens. Contrasting screen elements, such as animated dancing penguins or flashing bullets can also attract attention to a particular subject.

Presentation graphics should be harmonious and relevant to the text. This graphic may be used as the primary vehicle of the lesson content. It may be used to supplement the verbal information via text or audio. When the text alone produces educational competency, graphics may not be necessary. A well constructed verbal message or text can sufficiently cue a learner to internally form the appropriate message intended by the designer. Additionally, reliance on external visual graphics may decrease with the age of the learner. Therefore, using pictures and other graphics may not be as important with adults as with children. The designer can use a framing device to distinguish a line of text or a illustration on the presentation graphic. This technique emphasizes text, while providing a visual graphic.

Avoid Distracting the Learners
Irrelevant clip art and pictures that detract from the message of the training program. Don’t use outdated pictures that won’t help reinforce current subject materials. Avoid illustrations that causes students to concentrate on the illustration and not the message. Don’t use poor quality illustrations. If illustration does not supplement, explain, or clarify the concept-don’t use it. Use visuals that fit the audience, especially the age or technical level. A graphic for entry level technicians may disinterest high level experienced personnel. Conversely, a sophisticated graph or chart may loose the attention and interest of the beginner technician because they cannot figure out why the graphic is used.

The Impact of Color in Program Design
Color is effective for attracting and focusing attention. However, the more color is used, the less effective it will be, because attention is not always drawn to disturbing colors. The attention-getting effect of color can and should be used to focus on important information. Color should function as a redundant cue, not as an essential part of the instructional program. Some colors, especially yellow and green, are easier to perceive than other. Red and blue are the most difficult colors to perceive. Also, be aware that color blind students cannot perceive either green or red.

The use of color should be consistent with common usage’s in our society. Green signifies growth and movement and is often used by business personnel on illustrations when discussing fiscal growth. Blue conveys calm and peaceful. It is extremely useful when students attention span is limited or when introducing difficult to understand concepts. Red, although snappy and peppy, can over emphasize and indicate danger, especially when used with a green background. Yellow serves to highlight and is best used to get students to pay attention to a particular concept.

The Role of Color in Documents
Color have many roles in documents, especially in computer based training programs which instructional designers can use to improve comprehension. There are five important general functions that color can have in documents. They are:
• Directing attention
• Delimiting shapes and areas
• Clarifying complex ideas
• Facilitating identification
• Creating affect
The first two, directing attention and delimiting shapes are considered preattentive processes. These processes operate rapidly, automatically, in parallel, and with little demand on cognitive processes. Clarifying complex ideas is a mixture of preattentive and controlled processing. Facilitating identification and creating effect are considered attentive processes. Attentive processes are under cognitive control, which means they operate in response to what we already know, to what are needs and interests are.

Direction Attention-draws attention to the display that stands in contrast to other features on the screen. This effect is optimal when two colors are used, and attentuated when more colors are used or when features differ in color and at the same time shape and size. Shapes and Areas-applies various color to whole pages or text. Color can also be used to emphasize differences among blocks of text.

Clarity-color cueing has the effect of clarifying the structure of a document as used with cartographers during the creation of a map to differentiate the various objects and figures. The same principle can be used to clarify the organization of text, with common features printed in black, and unusual features printed in red.

Facilitating identification-color is a critical characteristic to identify many type of illustrations. For example, the St. Louis Cardinal baseball team use the red bird, the cardinal, as their team identifier. All of their marketing and merchandising products have the red bird on their products. Without this color, the team would not be recognized to a team like the Baltimore Orioles who use a orange bird as their team emblem. Many companies will use this color identification to enhance and develop product recognition by their customers. These same principles can be used with the computer based program by corporate logos or background colors.

Creating effect-the color of text, backgrounds, graphics, and pictures influence the affective reactions we have to certain images. Thus, people tend to like colored materials more than black and white graphics. However, younger people react more to color but adults tend to react to the content of the material rather than the color.
Text Appearance and Its Message

The appearance of text has a message of its own, depending upon font size, color, and style. Fleming and Levie wrote that “text, like pictures, diagrams or charts, communicates a great deal of information by its appearance on the screen that is independent from the information conveyed in it words.” The look of text impacts on learning as much as the message.

Therefore, the text format on the screen is critical to its effectiveness. The message should be distilled to its absolute core.