De-Mystifying Multimedia

By Gayeski, Diane M. | Communication World, April 1993 | Go to article overview

De-Mystifying Multimedia


Gayeski, Diane M., Communication World


'Interactive media'; the popularity of this phrase in communication circles seems matched only by its mystique. We know it's being touted as the latest and greatest information technology, but most communication professionals don't quite understand what's encompassed within this umbrella term and how it might apply to their own work.

You'll probably find yourself talking about multimedia in meetings with colleagues from training, information systems, or media production, or being called upon by vendors of hardware and software systems. Before journeying into this foreign territory, here are some basic terms which will help you get by. Along with the definitions, I've provided some hints as to how you might use this technology in public relations and employee communication.

CBT

This stands for computer-based training, and is a popular term among training professionals. CBT consists of interactive tutorials and simulations containing text and possibly graphics that provide training by means of a mainframe or personal computer. Typically, users are presented with several computer screens of information and are then asked a question; depending on what they type in, they receive customized feedback as to the appropriateness or correctness of their answers. The computer also easily can maintain "response files" that contain the name of the user, the date and time the course was taken, and all of the person's responses and accompanying score. CBT contains both instruction and testing. It's also known as CAI (computer-assisted instruction), CAL (computer-assisted learning), or CBI (computer-based instruction).

If your training department is already doing CBT, you can piggyback your applications for employee or customer information along with their instructional applications. Generally, the same hardware and software they're using can be used for such purposes as:

* general employee orientation.

* a background on the company for use in recruiting or with prospective stakeholders.

* a means to provide information and make choices on employee benefits.

* news stories that can be customized for different audiences.

You can use response files to track how many people read a given story, and to solicit comments on information. Or, take a leaf from the book of the automobile manufacturers who provide diskette-based programs on their various models; users can test-drive various cars, see what they look like in different colors, and even plan how they might finance certain models. You can produce diskettes with digitized full-color graphics and animation, and distribute them for less than a dollar apiece. For example, we produced an interactive program on employee benefits for Marine Midland Bank; users could specify whether they were full- or part-time employees and could look at options that were appropriate to their individual situations. Another system for a company that markets heaters for diesel vehicles helps sales reps cost-justify heaters using individual data a prospect types in: The program displays the appropriate type of heater in a typical installation, and calculates its payback period.

CBT or other interactive information programs are generally created with what are called "authoring systems"; these software tools allow non-programmers to create interactive presentations. Although it takes some skill to design non-linear "branching" programs with many paths for different users, the actual technical part of using the software is not difficult. I've taught many people who knew nothing more than basic word-processing to design and develop simple interactive presentations within a couple of hours.

CD-ROM

This is an acronym for compact disc-read-only memory, a small optical disc capable of storing and playing back digital data. It is roughly equivalent to about 500 floppy disks in storage capacity. It is used as a huge-capacity disc drive in a computer, and can either be installed directly within a computer or as an external device. …

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