In the 13-February-2007 issue of OnlineLearning News and Reviews, Dr.
Patti Shank discussed how the "best" authoring tools for certain
organizations may be tools that convert Microsoft Office content to
web-viewable format. I believe that this approach is part of the
natural inclination to avoid/delay change, because change requires
learning new ideas. It is like early cars that used reins to steer.
MS-Office is an excellent suite of tools to create/manage data specific
to those tools. Word is good for creating letters and documents to be
printed. PowerPoint is good for creating talking points that help a
live presenter. Excel is excellent for storing/manipulating tabular
data. However, we don't use Excel to give presentations, or PPT to
create printed documents, although we certainly could.
Likewise, using PPT and Word to create on-line documentation is a misuse
of these products. Most people have these tools, but yet, there are
almost no web sites that are built using these tools. So why should
users settle for web courses that are built using these tools? The
answer appears to be that course authors find it convenient to do so
(irrespective of the learners' needs.)
I actually see that in the future we will be using web courses as the
backup documentation when we give live presentations. There are
tremendous advantages to doing this. A properly structured web course
gives you links on each main content page to additional resources.
(PPT does not.) So, in the middle of the presentation, if an audience
member asks you a question, you can go to one of these links where you
may have a simulation, step-by-step layout, or in-depth article about
the question they have asked. Of course, you wouldn't read the in-depth
article, but it may have a table with statistics to back up your points.
In terms of visual display (the main reason people use PPT), through the
use of style sheets you can make this content format nicely for multiple
purposes. Ahead of time, you can create several style sheets that work
best in different delivery settings (e.g. laptop computer, PDA, visually
disabled). The end-users can click on different links to the same
content. Each link can use a different style sheet. So, users
following along on their own computer can choose their own content
layout. This is especially useful if you are giving the live
presentation to remote sites.
After the session, the complete web course is still available for the
audience to review. If they didn't understand one of your talking
points, they can look at the links to more data, and find how you've
explained the points in more depth. By giving multiple presentations of
the same material, you can then improve the chances that they'll be able
to catch your concepts. Further, the author can give tracked test
questions, and can find out directly if the learners are understanding
Even more than this, users can come back to your content and they don't
have to go through the entire presentation in order to get to the pages
of interest. This means that the content can be used as reference
material as they are trying to accomplish a task ("just-in-time"
learning). Course authors have been concentrating or the term "re-use"
only from the authoring side of things. We really should be considering
re-use from the learner side, as the purpose of the training is to
facilitate the end-user rather than the course author.
New mechanisms like XML are just the underlying technologies that in the
end will allow the kind of re-use and shifts that are mentioned above.
So rather than hanging on to our old tools trying to find convoluted
ways to use them in the changing environment, content developers would
be well-served to start thinking about how the new capabilities for
content delivery will modify how they do their tasks, and what tools are
really "best" for them, and more importantly, their audience.