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  ·   Web-Based Training  ·   Teamwork  ·  Writer to Trainer  ·  Learn Captivate  ·  

Does Web-based Training Live up to Expectations?

In recent years, I have created training materials for each one of these adult training situations:

  • Instructor-led training (ILT), where students were handed comprehensive training booklets, and a classroom teacher used a PowerPoint presentation to led the students through the training

  • Instructor-led training (ILT), where students were handed a how-to training booklet, and a classroom teacher used a computer and projector to demonstrate the target application as students followed along

  • Computer-based training (CBT), where individual students were handed a CD containing a course (with audio, simulations and tests) and be expected to sit alone at a computer for 8 hours to complete it, sometime within the following month

  • Web-based training (WBT), where individual students would take the initiative to enter the company Learning Management System, choose a course, and then study the hour-long self-directed course while seated at their desks

I also either led or participated in the classroom training. In this article I offer my take on what seems to be working and what doesn't seem to be working, at least not as well as business and training managers had hoped.

The eCorporation Push
As more and more companies strive to become 80%, 90%, or even 100% eCorporations, more emphasis is placed on remote training, or eLearning, as a natural part of the evolution. Although Learning Manage-ment System and Web-based training (WBT) soft-ware can be costly, in the long run this solution is less expensive than supporting instructor-led training in all branches of a company. Instead of having to pay per diem, plane fare, motel and rental car fees for George to fly across the country to train 20 accountants in Hoboken, how to use the new Premier Data System (PDS) database, George and his team remain at the home office, build an online training course, upload it to the company intranet, and email those 20 people a URL. And best of all, George and his team can send the same URL to other accounting personnel in other branches of the company and soon everyone knows how to use PDS, which puts all the accounting folks in the company on the same page.

Thus, the major feat of delivering PDS training to remote locations is accomplished without the expensive overhead of sending George anywhere. Meanwhile, if any of the adult learners have questions about PDS, they can just open and read the online help.

This plan looks good on paper and usually shines in management meetings.

Adult Learners
The problem is, most adult learners, particularly middle-aged adult learners, need more human interaction than courses can provide. Researchers engaged in adult learning studies agree on the following:

  • Adult education literature supports the idea that adults are mutual partners in the learning endeavor

  • Adults learn best when they are actively involved in their own learning

  • Adults learn best when those facilitating their learning demonstrate appreciation and respect for what adult learners already know and can do

These statements are consistent with what I have observed in the corporate training world. In school, young learners tend to be motivated by completing something, rushing through the lessons and tests of an online training course, and then quickly moving on to something else. This also applies to young learners in the workplace.

However, mature adult learners learn and retain much more through face-to-face training, where they can have any apprehensions about the training subject immediately assuaged, and where they can see the facial expressions of the teachers, pick up the non-verbal cues, and ask their questions right at the moment the question occurs to them.

Meeting those Training Goals
Naturally, the goal of any training session, whether in person or online, is for knowledge to be imparted from one person or group to another in a way that allows that knowledge to be retained and utilized. For most businesses, attached to this goal is the issue of cost, which is where WBT plays a large role.

Although WBT can save money over instructor-led training, research shows that the single greatest impediment to the success of Web-based training is a low completion rate. Some statistics show that it is not uncommon for large organizations to see a WBT completion rate of less than 10%. That means that the "solution" meant to train large numbers of people with one online training course results in less than 10% of the audience being trained. This is not a good outcome for the quarterly report.

One sure way to make certain that WBT succeeds is to bring people into a dedicated room during paid working hours for a dedicated period of time, and provide them with a skilled resource for demonstra-tions, help, motivation, and feedback. In other words WBT works best when it most closely simulates classroom training. If this is the case, then why bother with WBT? Why not save the course building costs and just send George on a plane to train those 20 folks in Hoboken?

I recognize that good reasons exist for choosing a full or partial WBT solution to meet corporate training needs. WBT can be a powerful tool in the right circumstances. I enjoy building WBT modules and have completed plenty of them, but experience tells me that online training is not a panacea. Sometimes there just is no substitute for hard-copy booklets and a classroom teacher.

by Ann Gordon, owner
Gordon Computer, LLC

(published in Ascend, Intermountain Chapter, Utah, Spring 2006)

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  ·   Web-Based Training  ·   Teamwork  ·  Writer to Trainer  ·  Learn Captivate  ·  

Teamwork Skills

When I left the world of education for a career in technical communication, I shied away from job descriptions emphasizing the need to "work on a team." These formidable job descriptions contained phrases like: "ability to work with a team," " enthusiastic team spirit" or "comfortable working as a part of a team."

Team Fear
The prospect of working on a team filled me with dread. Some of my past experiences with volunteer organizations, faculty groups, and graduate teams contributed to this fear, and my memories of negative team experiences kept this fear alive. In effect I told prospective employers, "Just give me a cubicle, some tasks, two breaks a day, and I'll build your course in no time. Really." I could do whatever they needed done - short of working as part of a team. I still found enough contracts to keep me alive, but discounting teamwork limited my options.

Introduction to Teamwork
Many technical communication jobs include working with teams, especially those for a training department. As a result, I could not avoid teams forever. One day my manager announced that I had been added to a team that was building an interactive online course. Despite my skepticism, and despite our losing one of the team members and working around last minute changes, our team produced the course on time and within budget.

We owed our success to a capable team leader. Although she knew I could use the software tools and could follow the storyboard, she sensed that I was uncertain about working with others on the project. Without overtly addressing my fears, she took the time to undermine my fear and trepidation through her insightful suggestions. Since that positive experience, I have learned that working on a team has some advantages over working alone.

Team Dynamics
Working on various different teams over the last six years, I've made a few observations about the following:

Loners: While loners make good fiction writers and even successful entrepreneurs, their difficulty with working on a team can jeopardize a technical communications project.

Meetings: Regardless of how team members feel about meetings, the first step in building an effective team is to meet on a regular basis, and with a set agenda. Regular meetings hedge against misunderstandings and unaligned objectives. Actually, I look forward to team meetings now, both those held at work and those away from work.

I especially enjoy STC meetings (which are mostly held on the phone) because group members not only have similar backgrounds, but share common goals.

Consensus: While regular meetings cannot guarantee 100 percent agreement, they do go a long way toward avoiding problems caused by miscommunication. Run correctly, where everyone has a chance to contribute, regular meetings can foster buy-in.

Some groups adopt the 70 percent comfortable rule, where consensus is reached when each member is at least 70 percent comfortable with a proposal. One by one the members are asked how comfortable they are with the decision in front of the team.

Leaders: Usually the team leader has the greatest influence on team member relationships. A good team leader helps the team decide what it can achieve, keeps team members both informed and involved, and lets members know how they are doing. On the other hand, team leaders cause stress when they spend more time pushing their agenda than listening to team member concerns and addressed disagreements, when they are more interested in punishing mistakes than handing out praise.

Now I appreciate an employer's concern about the ability of an employee to work on a team. A good team member knows how to balance freedom and structure, vacillating from one to the other as the situation warrants. Employees (and contractors) who are comfortable working on a team know how to feel empowered by their personal roles on the team while realizing the team as a whole needs to work toward the looming deadline.

Some team experiences are more enjoyable than others, but technical communicators do well to embrace the concept. Technical communication teams are here to stay. For more information about working on teams, visit http:// and locate the book "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams" by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister.

by Ann Gordon, President
Intermountain Chapter - STC

(published in Currents, STC First Coast Chapter, Florida, August 2005)

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  ·   Web-Based Training  ·   Teamwork  ·  Writer to Trainer  ·  Learn Captivate  ·  

From Tech Writer to Trainer

Not all tech writers and instructional designers want to stand in front of a classroom full of computer users and teach. I understand that. Certainly, not many computer software trainers would be inclined to write technical documentation all day. But in some companies, the line between these two fields has blurred. In my current contract, I wear many hats: technical writer/instructional designer/trainer/onsite support. Granted, it keeps me hopping, but I never feel left out of the loop.

The Way It Was
Before I became a fulltime tech writer and instructional designer, I taught computer software classes. Although I found software training to be rewarding, technical writing contracts promised fewer evening hours at my desk and larger paychecks. I couldn't resist making the transition.

When I traded one form of technical communication for another, I earned more money, but I lost something in the trade. I lost contact with the end user. Like most tech writers, I worked with programmers, engineers, business analysts, and subject matter experts to gather the information I needed to produce technical manuals and training materials, but once the product passed quality control, I never heard any more about the book or the course. I had no idea how well it was received; I didn't know whether what I had written filled the client's needs or not.

The Evolution
My current contract is with a company that does not subscribe to the kept-in-the-dark documentation process. Not only do technical writers and instructional designers research, write, and troubleshoot the online help and training materials, they also play an active role in the training.

As this company prepared to train thousands of employees to work with a new system, the managers decided to integrate the trainers and the writers so that everyone involved with a project would work with both the data and the business, from start to finish, including the classroom. In fact, the technical writers and instructional designers who create the help and the training materials also perform onsite support for the first week after a department goes online with the new system.

With this plan, train-the-trainer turned into a practice session where the technical documentation team members test the training materials and train each other. One member from another team audits this practice class, but no one from "training" has to ramp up on a new subject. The writers themselves are the trainers.

With this company, the technical documentation experts who produce the training materials get to see firsthand how the customer receives their materials. Their vast amount of background information is actively used in the classroom, where it becomes very useful when students raise questions. For me, this solution offers the best of both worlds-the opportunity to both write and teach.

by Ann Gordon, owner
Gordon Computer, LLC
(published in Ascend, Intermountain Chapter, Utah, Summer 2005)

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  ·   Web-Based Training  ·   Teamwork  ·  Writer to Trainer  ·  Learn Captivate  ·  

My Quest to Learn Captivate 3 in a Weekend

The Reason for my Quest
Many IDL survey respondents mentioned their need for training on Adobe Captivate (which was formerly Macromedia Captivate and RoboDemo before that). Survey comments about Captivate included:
      "I really need to learn Captivate."
      "Can the IDL Sig offer some training on Captivate?"
      "The IDL Sig's website needs some tips and tricks on apps like Captivate."
      "I cannot find another job unless I learn how to use Captivate."

After reading all the survey comments about Captivate, I felt it incumbent upon me to download a trial version and try learning it myself. I wanted to know if my previous experience with software simulation applications would transfer to Captivate. Since so many of our members wanted to learn more about this application, I wanted to find out for myself:
      . Why Captivate seemed so much in demand
      . Whether Captivate worked like other software simulation apps
      . Whether I could find any free online tutorials
      . If Captivate was similar to ViewletBuilder

My Previous Experience
As an instructional designer, I have used IconAuthor (Meske), ViewletBuilder (Qarbon), OnDemand (Global Knowledge), Camtasia (TechSmith) and Flash (Macromedia). In order to learn Flash (noted for its long learning curve), I read two Flash 5 training manuals, purchased a tutorial CD, and spent a month of late nights and Sundays practicing. After all that, I still know just enough Flash to get by. On the other hand, in less than two hours after I downloaded the ViewletBuilder application, I created an Excel tutorial movie that I could load on my website. When it came to impressing me with ease of use, Captivate had some stiff competition.

Getting Started
On Thursday I downloaded and installed Captivate 3, and on Friday I started searching the Internet for free tutorials. Hope springs eternal!

Captivate Training
Free Tutorials
My search for free online tutorials didn't net much. Through the years I have collected a nice list of websites that offer free Flash training, but I found little free Captivate training. Several websites that sell the VTC training CDs for Captivate also offer some short demo tutorials (see: or These tutorials are okay, but as advertised, they offer just a taste of the training, not enough to actually complete a project - even a small one.

After downloading and installing the trial version of Captivate, I viewed the tutorials available from the opening page of the application. They helped quite a bit, though they didn't explain all I needed to know, especially about setting preferences. After a full day of looking for resources and fussing with Captivate, I could create a demonstration (complete with sound) and an interactive training module. That would be good except that I didn't know enough to fix a problem I had with my software simulation. The interactivity and text boxes worked okay, but I could not get the movie to advance from page 2 to page 3. I had to do that manually, which certainly wasn't going to fly for either an employer or a client. More about this problem later.

Purchased Tutorials
If a person is serious about learning this application, and feels the need to learn it quickly, I suggest purchasing training. This is what I found:
      ·  The Adobe Store - - lists no Captivate training
      ·  VTC - - offers a training CD for Captivate 2; this 10.5 hour course costs $99.00 (the course available on other websites at the same price)
      ·  ShowMe Solutions - - offers virtual classroom training for Captivate
            Main course - $600 for 2 days
            Quick Start course - $280 for 1 day

I didn't pursue the ShowMe Solutions because their website requires a formal inquiry and response, but I didn't have time for that process since my Sunday night deadline loomed.

Captivate Manuals
To solve my simulation problem, I needed a detailed reference, preferably a manual. Since I live in a small town in the desert, neither our bookstore nor the library had such a book. I like to order books from, but that would take several days. Although I will purchase a Captivate manual some day, I could not get one this weekend.

Adobe PDFs
After trying various other searches, I found two Captivate PDF files at The PDFs on this page include:
      ·   A comprehensive manual written by Macromedia for Captivate 1
      ·   A short "Getting Started Guide for Captivate 3" document that explored the new features, but wasn't much help when I wasn't familiar with the previous features

I didn't read the Captivate 1 manual because I learned that the latest version of Captivate, version 3, is a complete remake of the program. I needed a quick training resource for version 3, since it was the only version Adobe offered as a free trial.

Adobe Live Docs
At last I finally found what I sought: Free detailed information about Captivate 3. The Adobe area called Live Docs ( includes a searchable knowledge base about Captivate 3. Through Live Docs I found a good deal of information about adding and managing objects, including click boxes. Now I just needed to find out how to get the objects to work between pages 2 and 3 of my first simulation.

Other Resources
The Adobe website has Product Support Centers for some of its applications, but not for Captivate, and they didn't have a User Community for this application. However, I did find a Captivate Forum, which is similar. Eagerly I read any thread that held promise of a solution to my simulation problem. Alas, an hour later, I was still in the dark. I found a few good comments, but the forum is new and doesn't have many entries. The forum is here:

Users Group
Seattle had the only Captivate Users Group I could find ( They have meetings and speakers, but that only works if you live near Seattle!

Cool Captivate Features
Granted, Captivate 3 offers a lot of cool functionalities, and I didn't have time to investigate all of them, but the following impressed me from the start.

Link to Photoshop CS3
Instructional designers often have to "doctor" their screenshots to remove or change real people's names and personal information. In most simulation applications, we need to export the slide as a jpg, open the file in a graphics program, delete the name or other information, save the file, then go back to the simulation application and import the slide. Adobe has linked Captivate 3 to Photoshop CS3 in order to eliminate these steps. Users can "doctor" a slide with Photoshop tools while still in Captivate, which definitely saves time.
Visual Timeline for Each Slide
Wow, these individual timelines are super! Unlike Flash, Captivate doesn't make you deal with one long, involved timeline. Instead, there is a short timeline for each slide. This offers the designer a lot of control, much more than I have found with other simulation applications.
Preview Each Slide Individually
With one click you can "play" one individual slide. This is a super advantage. For me, this feature would save a ton of development time.
Output to MS Word
This time-saving feature surprised me. After you build and publish your movie, you can export a storyboard of the movie to MSWord, which is great for handing a hard copy to those end users who still want one.

I set out to learn enough about Captivate 3 in one weekend to create a short demonstration (with audio) and one software simulation module. For that part of this quest, I succeeded, although I freely admit to only knowing the most rudimentary functions of this powerful application. In my opinion, Captivate is easier to learn than Flash (isn't most everything?), but Captivate is still not as easy to learn as ViewletBuilder. Granted, Captivate has numerous options and features, but they all take time to learn. In this weekend I learned enough to demonstrate basic ability with the program on Monday.

Regarding my troubled simulation, I gave up on the dysfunctional transition between slides 2 and 3, deleted the entire file, and re-created the module from scratch. In the workplace, this could pose a serious production problem if the simulation had been longer, but this module only contained ten slides. My remake works just fine; I may never know what went wrong with the first one!

by Ann Gordon, Survey Manager

(published in IDeal, IDL Special Interest Group newsletter, May 2008)

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