Magazine article Training & Development

Questions and Answers

Magazine article Training & Development

Questions and Answers

Article excerpt

So, you still don't have a clue about authoring systems, multimedia training, and electronic performance support? You're not alone.

I was sitting in my office doing something extremely important (my boss may read this), when I received an unusual telephone call. I picked up the phone and listened to the distressed voice of a young university student. He introduced himself. Then he launched into a plea for help.

"Like I said, I would appreciate any help you can give me. My assignment's due tomorrow, and I still don't have a clue. I've talked to maybe a hundred people about this already, and I can't get a straight answer."

"You've talked to 100 people?" I asked.

"Well, you know what I mean--a lot of people. Maybe 10."

"I see. And what was it you asked them exactly?"

"Well, for my report I was supposed to ask two questions: What's an authoring system, and do you have to be a programmer to use one? And what's the difference between multimedia training and electronic performance-support systems?"

"Isn't that three questions?" I asked.

"The first one's a two-parter," he said.

"OK. And none of the 10 people you asked could answer your questions?"

"Well, it was really more like five people that I actually got to talk to. And they all said a lot, but it didn't make much sense--you know? Something about an amalgamation of fourth-generation languages or something."

Over the next 30 minutes, I tried to answer the young man's questions in a way that made sense. What follow is a brief recap of his questions and my responses.

What exactly is an authoring package? I hear a lot about authoring packages being used to create CBT, multimedia, and electronic performance-support systems. But don't you have to be a programmer to use them?

An analogy may help illustrate what an authoring package is. In ancient times, when people first started building things, they had to make every tool they needed. You couldn't just go out a buy a hammer, for example. Over time, certain tools proved themselves effective and reliable, and nearly everyone who built things began to use them.

Now, pretend you're a modern-day carpenter. When you build a home, you use a set of tools that have proved useful in the past (such as a hammer, a saw, and a level). You probably don't make any of them--you just buy the ones you need. Over the years, you've acquired a nice set of tools that you use over and over again to build houses. Obviously, some carpenters are skilled enough to build tools from scratch if they want to, but that would be slow and costly. On occasion, perhaps the carpenter may run into a situation that requires a special tool that is not readily available, so she or he makes it. But that is a special case.

OK, so where is all this going? Well, for someone interested in creating multimedia training, an authoring system is much like the set of tools a carpenter uses to build a house.

Not that long ago, when programmers first started creating multimedia programs, they had to create the electronic tools (computer programs) they needed to get the job done. For example, they had to have a tool to create and edit text, another tool to make graphics, another for animation effects, another for branching, and so on. Programmers all over the world began creating these types of tools for their own individual projects.

Over time a few of those electronic tools proved themselves to be effective and reliable. Today, programmers have the knowledge and skill to go buy (or create) electronic tools they need to make multimedia programs.

At some point, some enterprising programmers and businesspeople realized that nonprogrammers may not have the knowledge to select, build, or use all the tools they need to create multimedia programs. So these entrepreneurial folks built an extensive set of easy-to-use electronic tools and offered the set for sale as an authoring package. …

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