The Development Process

The success of Web-based training (WBT) and Web-based performance support system (WBPSS) projects depends on fulfillment of all steps of the development process, from conception to implementation and evaluation. Instructional Systems Design/Development (ISD) models a comprehensive training design approach used to design classroom and computer-based training. The steps outlined here are similar to those of ISD, though vastly simplified. I attempt to define responsibilities and job titles which might be appropriate for each of the steps of the development process.

client needs analysis
Determine what the client wants to accomplish with WBT or WBPSS. What are the explicit outcomes of the project? Will the product provide individual instruction while cutting training costs? Will it replace or supplement existing training? Does the client want to integrate training into a larger information system? What will this project cost? As a result of intense client contact, this needs analysis delineates client needs and outcomes that satisfy those needs. It is at this initial stage that the developer and client must decide if WBT / WBPSS is the best choice. Responsibility: project manager, instructional designers
tasks/user analysis
What exactly does the user/learner need to know to perform on the job? Should the training improve skills, knowledge, and/or attitudes? What components of an informational system should be accessible to the user to improve job performance? What are the range of existing computer skills and educational levels of the target users? The tasks/user analysis probes each of these questions thoroughly to understand exactly how to structure WBT/WBPSS to meet the users needs. Responsibility: project manager, subject matter experts, instructional designers
technical analysis
Often, the first questions asked concern the clients and users computing resources. Unfortunately, sometimes this is the focus for project development. The purpose of the technical analysis is to establish the baseline technical capabilities. Most appropriate is to define, with the client’s assistance, a baseline projected to the time of implementation and including capabilities added expressly for this project. For example, the client may be installing fiber optic networks and wants to use multimedia to take advantage of the increased network speeds. From the technical analysis the "toolbox" of technologies can be defined. The instructional designer will then design the course or performance support system to take advantage of technological capabilities in an instructionally sound way. Responsibility: project manager, systems analysts
interface design
Interface design is one of the most critical phases of the development process. The user interface must provide all the features needed for the user to navigate the application as intuitively and transparently as possible. User-centered design dictates that the interface provide features that allow the learner to control the learning process. The client may request features that should be discussed thoroughly at this phase. This will help minimize "feature creep" which can destroy an interface design and derail a project in later phases.
The user analysis should define the range of user computer experience so that the interface designer may choose design elements most appropriate for the target users. Interface designers best understand the complex, non-linear way learners will use the product. Interface designers work with instructional designers and client representatives to define metaphors and the interface to support those metaphors and, if necessary, mesh with established client design standards. The result of the interface design process is a dynamic prototype interface ready for testing. Responsibility: user interface designers, instructional designers
usability testing
Test the interface on real end users or those with similar skill and knowledge levels. Through careful observation, scientific analysis, and subjective evaluation the effectiveness of the interface can be determined. Most likely, this is an iterative process requiring testing, refinement, and more testing. The tested interface prototype becomes the basis for template and technical standards design. Responsibility: usability engineers, human factors experts, or cognitive psychologists
standards definition and design document
For the benefit of all processes that follow, it is wise to prepare a design document. The technical team provide input into the technical standards which include required software, bandwidth limitations, software settings, file naming conventions, and technical details required by the interface. The project site manager sets standards for site maintenance and internal security. The Webmaster should specify procedures and standards which must be followed for server compatibility, external security, and user access control. Instructional designers provide an overview of the prior analyses, learning/performance objectives, and instructional design to meet those objectives. Responsibility: instructional designers, systems analysts
template design
The technical team prepares a template based on the tested interface design. This template includes blank pages with pre-positioned and coded navigational controls and repeating screen elements. The template may also include a library of models of interactive screen designs. Afterwards, the components of the template may be duplicated and expanded by other developers. Responsibility: systems analysts, programmers
instructional design
The instructional design process is one where a trained, highly experienced designer organizes and presents content in such a way that the end user meets his or her learning goals. The instructional designer (ID) must know the subject matter, with the aid of a subject matter expert (SME), and then know the teaching methods best suited for the medium and the learner. Much effort must be placed on "chunking" the information, culling it down to the essential and presenting it in discrete informational units. IDs prepare storyboards from which interactive screens may be programmed. With the advent of WYSIWYG Web page editors, IDs can now prepare rough screens, ready for finishing by programmers. Typically, the client and SME will review and approve the storyboards for accuracy and applicability. Responsibility: instructional designers with input from subject matter experts
media creation
Based on the storyboards, media specialists create the variety of content that will make up the product: text, still graphics, movies, animations, music, narrations, databases, Shockwave content. Media must conform to the standards specified in the design document and be fully compatible with the interface. Responsibility: instructional designers, graphic designers, videographers, sound designers, programmers
document processing
This is the step where subject matter content is formatted into an HTML document—of course, here HTML really means any of the Web technologies for creating pages. Typically, the content elements may be placed in a template page copy using a WYSIWYG editor. HTML converters can be used to automate the document construction process. Since this has become such an easy process, programmers are not necessarily needed for this step. IDs may play a role in this step in that the storyboard and initial HTML document might be similar or one and the same. Responsibility: instructional designers, programmers
server-side scripting
Server-side applications may be needed for creating dynamic documents, performance tracking, student record keeping, and security measures. Documents that include dynamic information (network status, product inventories, legislation status, etc.) offer rich, timely information to the learner. Additionally, the WBT/WBPSS may need to log usage and track student performance. A programmer can write scripts or backend applications that perform these and other tasks. Responsibility: programmers
site maintenance
Project documents and supporting files can become scattered and unmanageable. It is important that a project site manager take control early in the project to establish procedures for everyone to follow in supplying and maintaining project files. There are many site management tools available to help the responsible person keep control of files. Responsibility: programmers, system administrator
Web server administration
Once the project files are placed on the server, someone has to configure the server for content types used, monitor courseware/performance system usage, maintain user accounts or access privileges, maintain supporting databases, and monitor and update external hyperlinks. Responsibility: system administrator, Webmaster
evaluation and updating
Were the outcomes defined in the client needs analysis and tasks/user analysis achieved? Ongoing testing and evaluation will point out unforeseen weakness in the training product. It may become necessary to redesign individual pages or segments of content should the content become dated and new information become available. Usability issues should have been addressed completely during initial testing of the interface, but added features or content may require interface modification and new testing. The advantages of a Web-based system will become evident during this last phase as updates become easier and faster to implement than with traditional, custom training applications and information systems. Formal evaluation—for example, using the Kirkpatrick model of four levels of evaluation—measures everything from user satisfaction through results affecting the organization. Responsibility: all project positions, as appropriate

 

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