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The use of animation in the delivery of interactive online WebCT training

Susanna Harris and Stuart Fletcher
Australian National University
This paper is concerned with the design and development of an online, self-paced, interactive alternative to conventional training, using Macromedia Flash technology.

The self-paced learning modules will be offered on the web through the WebCT logon screen. The learner works in an environment that emulates WebCT but is actually a Flash movie. He/she is introduced to the concepts taught in each module through computer run demonstrations that use animation, sound, and text. The learner is prompted to repeat the actions of the demonstration and is guided through all of his/her actions with both text and sound. Later, the learner is encouraged to enter his/her WebCT site and apply what has been learned.


In early 2001, the Australian National University (ANU) established a Division of Information. The Division is committed to the organisation and maintenance of an advanced information infrastructure that supports research and education through highly responsive information and educational technology services. The University has made a major investment in a web course management tool (WebCT) as part of the integration of information technologies to support flexible teaching and learning.

Online learning is now seen as an integral part of teaching and learning and is a major University initiative. As a result of a decision from The Board of Faculties first meeting in 2001, every undergraduate course at the ANU now has a corresponding WebCT course, and each of these courses includes:

This commitment on the part of the University guarantees every student a minimum of course information, and every lecturer an up to date class list.


The Educational Design Services (EDS) at the ANU currently offers staff members a comprehensive but conventional face-to-face training program to enable them to use WebCT in online teaching and learning. This training program consists of eight basic two-hour courses, and a seminar focusing on teaching and learning issues. These have been well received by many University staff members. However, face-to-face training does not suit everyone's schedule or learning style. This paper is concerned with the design, development and evaluation of an online, self-paced, interactive alternative to conventional training, using Macromedia Flash technology. The first of these modules will be online by the beginning of March 2002, and others will follow by July. The development of this first module is particularly timely, as staff members can use it to learn how to replace the placeholder document mentioned above, with their own course study guides.

Interactive self-paced training modules

Training has traditionally been face-to-face or text-based, in the form of illustrated manuals and much of web-based training appears to continue this tradition, with static pages of text and illustrations transferred to the web. This certainly seems to be the case for WebCT training; EDS's background investigations did not turn up any existing online interactive training materials.

The intent of the interactive self-paced training modules is to serve as a flexible alternative to face-to-face training. These interactive self-paced learning modules are designed to provide the learner with an aural, visual, text-based and kinaesthetic learning experience. In this way, the modules address a variety of learning styles and modes of learning.

The modules emulate WebCT through Flash movies. We have chosen Flash because it produces the smallest files, which are best suited for use on the web, integrates sound particularly well, and the viewing window can be scaled without losing image quality.

The learner is introduced to the concepts taught in each module through computer-generated demonstrations that use animation and static text. Each screen example zooms in to display the relevant detailed section and the animated cursor moves within the screen to demonstrate each operation. The learner is prompted to repeat the actions of the demonstration and is guided through all of his/her actions. This approach provides a kinaesthetic reinforcement of each step and is based on the research "that learning is more effective when it involves multisensory channels" (Kearsley 2000 p 9).

In the Orientation, he/she is also encouraged to enter his/her WebCT site and apply what has been learned. By clicking on a navigation button, the learner can launch a small, scrollable Quick Text Reference window to direct him/her in this task.

An online tutorial opens onto a Table of Contents (Figure 1), which is divided into three sections. The top section includes an orientation to the module, and introductory material regarding the tools that will be covered. The learner clicks on a hyperlink to access each topic of instruction from the middle section. The bottom section provides instructions about how to log on to WebCT.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Screen picture, table of contents

At the end of each topic, the learner returns to the Table of Contents to choose another topic. Each topic is made up of several components. The Show me segment of each topic displays a static starting image. To the left of that image is a text explanation of how to use the tool or function represented by the static image. The learner clicks on Show me and the Flash animation zooms in and demonstrates the use of the tool or function (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Screen picture, editing files in the Manage Files tool

At the end of an animation sequence, the learner has the opportunity to try the sequence by clicking on the "Let me try" button. The learner is prompted through every operation by text balloons and sound (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3: Screen picture, example of a text balloon prompt

Using the Orientation, the learner is encouraged to open WebCT and to apply what has been learned to his/her own WebCT site. The learner can open the Quick Text Reference, which is a floating scrollable, printable text window that contains all the instructions in the module. This window can be referred to at any time, but is particularly intended to support the learners in trying out what they have just learned in his/her own WebCT site.

Interactivity and adult learning

The term interactivity in the context of these training modules means: "those functions and /or operations made available to the learner to enable them to work with content material presented in a computer based environment" (Sims 2000). Within this framework, interactivity also means giving the learner "control of and interaction with the information flow" (Richardson 1995). The material that the participants are learning is primarily procedural (ie. first do this, then do that) and therefore limits the degree to which the learners can directly affect content structure or the media used to display content. However, the focus is clearly on the learners. The modules use many of the focus points that Sims describes in his paper in which he derives an array of interactive constructs from a broad range of learner centred theories. He identifies
[...] those theories that place specific focus on the learner, and that by examining this focus particular interactive constructs can be derived. By considering the Learner dimension, developers may be able to create applications that are more adaptive to the specific characteristic of the target population (Sims, 2000 p 47).
The target population of learners consists of academic staff members who intend to use WebCT for teaching. This means that this is a population of adult learners who are motivated to learn in order to cope with "specific life-changing events" (ie. the introduction of WebCT for every undergraduate course) and who "seek out a learning experience [...] primarily because they have a use for the knowledge or skill being sought" (Zemke and Zemke, 1984 p 1). The overwhelming amount of research on adult learning shows that adult learners are largely self-directed, time poor, internally motivated, and vary a great deal in what they bring to the learning situation. They tend to prefer learning environments that are focused on the skills, concepts, and information they need to learn, that are not overly complex, and that allow them to make as few mistakes as possible, or to make mistakes in a way that does not compromise their self-esteem.

The modules are divided into manageable segments that include only necessary content. Learners can work through the modules in the privacy of their own homes or offices. They can use the Table of Contents to select paths through the content. They can navigate freely within the simulated WebCT environment from one segment of a module to another and can set their own pace. They can use the optional Quick Reference window as scaffolding for applying their learning to their own WebCT environments. This option allows learners to use different content representations (the simulation and WebCT) to engage meaningfully with the material and to test their mastery of the material in the genuine context of their own WebCT sites. At the same time, learners can use the modules according to the skill levels they bring to the training, and according to how much they need to learn now. They can pick and choose which operations to study and quit the module at any time. When a complete set of modules is available, learners will be able to construct individual paths of inquiry into using WebCT.


The first of these modules, Manage Files, was intended to be closely related to existing training materials, and to be a prototype for subsequent modules. The module covers how to upload, download, create and manage files in this WebCT file management tool, the Manage Files tool. Each Manage Files operation was storyboarded with screen captures from an actual WebCT site. The storyboards were handed over to a graphic designer who developed a set of Flash movies. The graphic designer used the screen captures, which are GIFs, primarily as guidelines for images. However, as GIFs resize poorly, most of the images had to be turned into easily resizable vector objects by redrawing them in a drawing program (Macromedia Freehand). Sound was recorded and linked into the movies, and the movies linked together.

Formative evaluation

A randomly selected group of five participants with varying levels of computer skill, were asked to work their way through the first section of the module which contains three topics, and then to work through a few of the File Functions topics of their own choosing. The members of the group all understood the basic concepts related to the implementation of WebCT at the ANU and were briefed concerning the goals for the implementation of this self paced learning package. One or two EDS staff members sat with each participant, took notes on the participant's comments and performance, but gave minimum technical help. EDS staff member(s) then interviewed each participant by administering the following nine item questionnaire developed by EDS and then further refined by Dr Malcolm Pettigrove, an expert in quality assurance and evaluation.
On a scale of 1-10 how difficult was this module to use? (1=easy, 10=difficult)
On a scale of 1-10 how difficult was this module to navigate? (1=easy, 10=difficult)
On a scale of 1-10 how complex were the materials covered?
   (ie too few new concepts versus too many new concepts) (1=not very complex 10=very complex)
Were you able to remember which parts of the module you had visited?
What did you think of the following features:
   Animation: Buttons: Sound: Prompts: Colours:
Please identify any sections that seemed to be too long or too short. Comments
On a scale of 1-10 how hard is it to understand the information presented? (1=easy 10=hard)
Describe how this module worked for you as a learning environment.
Do you have any other comments you would like to make?
The following is a summary of the responses by the participants in the useability trial. These responses were used to inform the improvements to the package. During the trial, participants also contributed some very detailed comments concerning improvements to the specific sections of the package, mainly in the area of screen design and navigation. These comments were recorded and have provided additional information as part of this formative evaluation.

Revisions have been completed based on the recommendations provided by this formative evaluation and a full implementation of the program is planned for Semester 2 2002.


The interactive self-paced training modules are delivered in three modes via the web through the WebCT logon screen. The modules offer an opportunity for Increasingly, university teaching staff members are adopting online teaching and learning strategies to enhance, supplement, or replace face-to-face methods. These interactive self-paced modules give them the opportunity to experience learning in a flexible, interactive web-based framework.


Kearsley, G. (2000). Online education: Learning and teaching in Cyberspace. Wadsworth, Belmont, California.

Richardson, L. (1995). The medium and the message. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 11(1), 1-11.

Sims, R. (1999). Interactivity on stage: Strategies for learner-design communication. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 15(3), 257-272.

Sims, R. (2000). An interactive conundrum: Constructs of interactivity and learning theory. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 16(1), 45-57.

Toohey, S. (1999). Designing courses for higher education. SRHE and Open University Press, Buckingham.

Zemke, S. and Zemke, R. (1984). 30 Things we know for sure about adult learning. Innovation Abstracts, 6(8). [viewed 18 Feb 2002 at, available elsewhere, eg verified 13 Aug 2002 at]

Please cite as: Harris, S. and Fletcher, S. (2002). The use of animation in the delivery of interactive online WebCT training. In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July.

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