The curse of Captivate

Three Pillars of CBT

The curse of Captivate

Let’s examine these requirements in a little more depth and compare them with what’s typically available today. ‘Interactivity’ is a much over-used and misunderstood word. At its best, interactivity allows the learner to engage in a dialogue with the learning program. For example, the learning program presents a task – say, adding a picture to a Word document – and challenges the learner to carry out this task by interacting with a simulation of Word. This simulation doesn’t need to be at all sophisticated: indeed, Macromedia Captivate can pretty much automate its production.

However, what I’ve just described is the polar opposite of most of what passes for ‘CBT’ on the market today. Go online and buy a training program for, say, Microsoft Word 2003 and you’re likely to end up with what amounts to nothing more than a web-based video clip – you sit and watch someone else carry out the procedure, with no opportunity to practise it yourself. Oh joy. It’s a bit like learning to fix a car engine by watching someone else do it, but never getting the chance to handle a spanner yourself under supervision. Interactivity has the effect of allowing the end user to control the pace of their own learning. Rather than present a dull narration that drones on about the application, the idea is to invite the users to try it for themselves, with the support of textboxes or a narrator that picks them up when they get it wrong. Interaction is very much less effective when it’s restricted to simply spoon-feeding the learner with a ‘click this’ type of instruction, rather than challenging the learner to think for themselves.

The training must also be carefully targeted. When planning an e-learning course, the author will usually start by writing down a list of every feature of the target program, then split these features up into manageable chunks and regurgitate them back to the poor trainee. Ask a user what they want when it comes to training and they’ll invariably say something like ‘I want to learn how to create a contents page’ rather than ‘I want to be told about Word’s indexing features’. The first is a practical task; the second is simply abstract information. A good CBT program will have a menu full of realistic, practical tasks, each of which is interactive and only as long as it needs to be to achieve its purpose.

Finally, multimedia content makes for the best e-learning and CBT products. Almost everyone nowadays has a computer capable of playing good-quality sound, and there are few activities more boring than sitting at a computer screen reading pages of text. Multimedia means, first and foremost, adding a professionally recorded narration read by a professional voice-over artist. The one exception to this requirement is where you use the actual developer of the software, or some other recognised expert in the area, in which case their personal kudos with the users will outweigh any lack of professional voice skills (which might otherwise risk losing credibility by appearing to ‘do things on the cheap’). Even in this latter case, the voice-over must still be recorded professionally – an amateurish voice-over is the quickest way to turn off your audience, who’ll be subconsciously wondering why they should bother to spend their time on the training if you couldn’t be bothered to record a quality voice-over. If you want to see good multimedia in action, pop along to www.google.com, the online training that arguably gets away with being totally non-interactive by being very targeted and after all does represent a money-making opportunity (the boredom threshold rises considerably whenever there’s cash at the end of it!).

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