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Rapid Prototyping of Courseware
Jack E. Lee, President and CEO 
Knowledge Management Solutions, Inc.
29 June, 2003

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Introduction

The major factor underlying the considerable initial costs of e-learning development is the time required of programmers, instructional designers, authors, and subject matter experts. The subject matter expert occupies a critical role in the success or failure of any instructional design project. Ideally the subject matter expert can save the developers vital production time by providing annotated and structured documentation that captures how concepts and skills fit together in a given piece of curriculum. Although subject area knowledge acquisition has long been recognized as the "long pole in the tent" during development of courseware, the process for collecting the vital content data has been based primarily on unstructured interviews and focus groups which often result in unclearly specified requirements. The following approach to rapid courseware prototyping will reduce the time required of programmers, instructional designers, authors, and subject matter experts, while making that time spent more focused and useful for the courseware design and development process.

Rapid Prototyping Approach to Courseware Development

Until recently, courseware development was primarily a process that required sponsor endorsement of a design specification before implementation. Problems often arise with this arrangement when the sponsor is not certain of their instructional needs. Because of the prohibitive expense associate with building an e-learning program of instruction that does not meet the sponsors requirements,  the rapid prototyping approach has emerged. The primary focus of the rapid prototyping approach is risk reduction. The approach consists of a series of iterations through a structured course design process, through which the sponsor and developers create increasingly detailed design specifications, resulting in courseware that meets the sponsors training requirements.

A Structured Course Design Process

KMx provides a series of expert system technologies specifically designed to reduce the effort and improve the accuracy of the structured interview process.  The first of these technologies is provided by the Knowledge/Skill (K/S) Table AutoGen feature.  K/S tables provide a comprehensive listing of candidate behaviors associated with a particular subject matter.  Behaviors form the basis for further development of performance-based objectives and serve as the primary content cataloging schema in the KMx architecture. 

Develop Knowledge and Skill Behavior Listings

The K/S Table AutoGen feature leverages customizable templates of Knowledge and Skill Items (behaviors) common to a type of subject matter.  These templates also provide sub-classifications and relationship mapping elements to facilitate the courseware development process.  An example of a K/S Template would include our equipment template, which provides a listing of Knowledge and Skill Items (behaviors) common to equipment training.  This listing is further supported by a relationship map that correlates the supporting relationship of knowledge items to skill items and provides a sequencing method to facilitate the development of instructional objectives and course outlines.

The K/S Table AutoGen process requires the identification of the training subject area and the selection of a K/S Template for generation of candidate K/S Items (behaviors).  The process requires a few seconds to generate the subject area K/S Item candidates for review and modification by a subject matter expert.  The subject matter expert review can be conducted online or be provided to the subject matter expert in a printed or word processing format to facilitate the process.

Develop Course Requirements and Objectives

Following the review and modification of the subject area K/S Table, the instructional designer can proceed with the course development process using the KMx Course Requirements AutoGen feature.  This feature uses expert system technology to automate the creation of performance based training objectives and course requirements documentation.  Leveraging relational database technology, the expert system provides knowledge and skill training level classifications that document conditions and standards of performance associated with behavior accomplishment.  The level classification system is pre-populated with customizable condition and standard information unique to a K/S Template.

The Course Requirements AutoGen process requires the identification of the training subject area and the selection of a performance standard for generation of candidate training objectives.  The process requires a few seconds to generate the course requirements and training objectives for review and modification by a subject matter expert.  The subject matter expert review can be conducted online or be provided to the subject matter expert in a printed or word processing format to facilitate the process.

Develop the Course Outline

Following review and modification of the course requirements and training objectives, the instructional designer can proceed with development of a course outline using the KMx Course Outline AutoGen feature.  This feature leverages expert system technology and processing rules to rapidly generate a course outline based on the course requirements, the relationship of knowledge and skill K/S Items (behaviors) and the training objectives for the course.  The feature recognizes the requirements for supporting content and creates placeholders in the course outline to facilitate further development. 

The Course Outline AutoGen process requires the identification of the Course for outline generation.  The process requires a few seconds to generate the course outline and content placeholders for review and modification by the instructional designer.  The instructional designer review can be conducted online or be provided in a printed or word processing format to facilitate the process.

Develop Test Items for measurement of training objective mastery

KMx provides the developer with the tools required to develop test item inventories that are indexed by the K/S Table (subject area) and K/S Item (behavior) that a test item supports.  This approach facilitates test item development and promotes reuse of items.  The K/S Item provides a good starting point for the developer to create test items that truly measure the behavior, conditions and standards required for objective mastery measurement. 

Populate the Course Outline with Content to achieve the Course Requirements

In KMx, course content development is accomplished by forming a relationship between content objects and the course outline.  Content objects are files that support the requirements of  your K/S Table (subject area) and can originate from numerous applications and file formats, including:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft Presentation Broadcasts
  • Adobe Portable Document Files (PDF)
  • Macromedia Flash
  • Macromedia DreamWeaver (using the SCORM Packaging option)
  • Image file formats (.gif and .jpg)
  • Streaming Media files (Microsoft or Real formats)
  • External URLs
  • SCORM Content Objects

As discussed previously, course outlines developed using the KMx AutoGen feature will have placeholders inserted for content objects required to achieve the course requirements and objectives.  KMx provides a expandable course outline editing interface to review and assign content objects to populate the course outline.  Visual indicators are provided to assist the developer in completing this process. 

Assemble Exams and assign them to the Course Outline

In KMx, exams are content objects that are assigned to a course and indexed to a K/S table (subject area) to allow for measurement and reporting of achievement through formalized training and informal activity.  Organization of exams and test items by K/S table also promotes re-use and ease of maintenance of exam materials.  Exams are developed by assigning test items to the exam.  Exams are included in a course by assigning the exam as a content object into the course outline.  Once assigned to a course, exams will appear in the course outline as content objects and may be modified from the course outline tree.

Output Courseware

KMx enables courseware to be output in numerous formats and presentations, including:

  • E-Learning
  • SCORM Content Aggregation Packages
  • Microsoft Word files (in various instructor and student supporting formats)
  • XML (for use by document management systems)

KMx is the only technology available today that can produce courseware for use in any blend of training from a common course outline.  This provides the developer with the flexibility of using multiple delivery modes without having to maintain separate course materials for each delivered format.

Conclusion

KMx provides the instructional designer with the capability to rapidly prototype courseware using the latest expert system technology.  By leveraging existing documentation and other content assets, the developer can quickly produce instructionally sound courseware for implementation and validation by the target student population.  Coupled with advanced learning and content management capabilities, KMx is truly an Advanced Distributed Learning Platform.

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