Briefing: Interactive Tools For Professional Training

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ComputerFollowing Adobe's success in the Learning Management category of the 2007 Software Satisfaction Awards, Adobe's senior e-learning consultant Steve Allison shared his thoughts on how accessible content creation tools are transforming training processes.

"The dispersion of workforces has forced training departments to rethink how they do effective training," says Allison. "A classroom session with a good instructor is still unbeatable, but it's difficult to get people into the same room if you have a dispersed team."

The latest generation of authoring and learning management tools make it easier to create and co-ordinate training content, while better broadband connections, collaborative spaces and online communities make it possible for more people to get their hands on it, he says.

"The new tools make it possible to reuse materials in the classroom or remotely. Users can access those materials and then collaborate online, so the instructor can guide what they're doing."

"People used to have to rely on external agencies to prepare content at great expense. But people have discovered that they can do it in-house in their own timescales."

As a leading provider of authoring tools, Adobe is understandably keen to encourage DIY content creation. The Adobe portfolio ranges from Acrobat Professional, the standard PDF document editing package, to the Creative Suite that includes the Dreamweaver web editing and design package, Flash animation and video editing tools, plus InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.

Allison explains how the different creative elements fit together. Catering for print materials, the standard "design" edition of the Creative Suite includes InDesign for layout and desktop publishing, supplemented by Illustrator for line art work and Photoshop for editing and manipulating photographs.

Material for the web and interactive presentations can be created and edited with Dreamweaver, which emulates InDesign in an HTML environment, while animations and illustrations are handled by Flash and Fireworks.

For professional trainers, the ultimate tool is Adobe Captivate 3, which lets people create simulations, scenario-based training, and quizzes without programming knowledge or multimedia skills.

"There's a lot more focus on interactive learning and taking part in content," he says. "People used to have to rely on external agencies to prepare content at great expense. But people have discovered that they can do it in-house in their own timescales."

Captivate can grab visuals from software applications so that IT trainers can create simulations that look like applications and, with the addition of interactive buttons, act like the programs that people will be using. "It's a better training experience and has a better outcome," claims Allison.

"We're now getting technology that lets you reuse content across many different devices so you can get it to people who need it and meet training needs on the shop floor."

Interactive Captivate experiences can backed with other assets pulled in from the Creative Suite products and Adobe Connect can translate them into SCORM, AICC and other learning management system standards.

"These tools make it more accessible to integrate content and deploy it," says Allison. "In the same way that PDF has become the standard for electronic documents, Flash/SWF is the standard for animated graphics.

"An advantage of Flash player is that you can see the content across any platform. We're now getting technology that lets you reuse content across many different devices so you can get it to people who need it and meet training needs on the shop floor," says Allison.

This portability and ease of use is a cornerstone of the Adobe philosophy. "We spent a lot of time and effort to make sure that the tools, while powerful, are very easy to use. We do a lot of beta testing with experts to help us get applications right," he says.

"That means, for example, that if you create stuff with Illustrator, it can be used anywhere without having to worry about it. In the end, it's all about time and expense - and ease of use is the best validation of what we're trying to do."

Technology never stands still and the past year or so has seen the internet expand into social learning communities, voice technology and video streaming, which means new opportunities for trainers to exploit. Allison says that Adobe and its users are beginning to understand the challenges of blended and distance learning. "Now we're trying to enhance them with voice and video."

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