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Multimedia instruction of operators in open cut and underground coal mines

H Plant and J Dekkers
University of Central Queensland

This paper will address the application of technology to industry training, specifically in open cut and underground coal mines. The topic will be dealt with from the following perspectives: How has training been changed through technology? What was the partnership agreement between the industry client and the University? How was the product developed and what are the applications to other industries?

Developments in computing and communication technologies since the late 1980s have resulted in increased application to training technologies. This has been the case particularly in recent years as computer hardware and software have become cheaper and the use of computer based training can be as cost effective as face to face instruction. Furthermore, education and training developments using multimedia now enable the production of very flexible and user friendly applications for a range of teaching/learning environments.

However, computer based training may be seen as a costly means of training small numbers of people, but has been demonstrated to be a very efficient approach to on site training and also adds value to training. Gery defines computer based training as:

an interactive learning experience between a learner and a computer in which the computer provides the majority of the stimulus, the learner must respond, and the computer analyses the response and provides feedback to the learner (Gery, 1988, p.6)
At present, many industries continue to use the monitorial approach as a preferred method of showing another employee how to do a job. It has the advantage of being a rapid, accessible and customised means of knowledge transfer from one individual to another. However, an increasing trend is to use computer based training, where the computer becomes the tutor providing an expository model of instruction for the trainee. This model presents information, guides the trainee, provides practice for the trainee and assesses trainee progress (Alessi and Trollip, 1991).

This paper provides a brief background on the use of multimedia for training and then presents a case study on the development of a suite of multimedia packages for the training of mine operators of heavy equipment.

Multimedia and training

Training per se is commonly held to be the development of certain skills, habits and attitudes for an individual's increased productivity in the workplace. According to the literature on adult learning characteristics, adults bring to training their past experience, their need tor individual recognition, apprehension about self efficacy or their ability to perform successfully, and their motivation. (Tannenbaum & Yukul, 1992)

Selection of multimedia as a preferred training methodology is often based on the fact that well designed multimedia instructional materials reflect best practice regarding self paced learning, which appears to be a dominant need in adult learning (ibid, p.406).

There are many definitions of what constitutes multimedia in training, however, the consensus states that any training program that incorporates an acknowledgment of a variety of learning styles in trainees and thus includes stimuli that affect more than two of the senses is multimedia training.

Multimedia ... is the integration of video. sound, text, graphics and animation under the control of a computer ... the integration of sound, sight and other senses into software applications for the purpose of improved man-machine interfaces. (Moignard, 1992, p.2)
In a review of the literature regarding the choice of multimedia in training, there appear to be seven primary advantages for using computer based training.
  1. Reduction of training time (up to 30%)
  2. Timeliness and availability of training
  3. A decrease in equipment and resource training requirements
  4. Consistency in course content
  5. Individualised instruction
  6. Effectiveness of teaching methods
  7. Improved training program administration and management
    (Widen, Mangan & Weiss, 1988, p.40)
A reduction in training time is often the most quoted benefit of using multimedia as a training tool. For example, the Aviation and Defence Industries have been the longest users of CBT and therefore provide the most solid documentation on the success of CBT. Crew member training at United Airlines was reduced from four weeks to just under ten days using CBT methods.

Similarly, the cost efficiency of using multimedia training to train large numbers of staff members at any time over a twenty four hour period, without dependence on a trainer or supervisor represents the "timeliness" factor. For example, the Westinghouse Savannah River Company, a large nuclear isotope production facility, trained 26,000 employees annually in a course called "General Employee Training", in nine subject areas, using CBT. This daunting task is achieved economically and efficiently through the use of multimedia programs designed by the Technology Unit of the same company ( Barnes, 1992, p. 78).

Consistency in course content is an influential factor for choosing CBT as it was for the Curragh Mine Project, as industry thrives when worker productivity is high, consistent and predictable. Fixed course content that encapsulates an industry's best practices provides for a high level of standardisation of training, which, in turn, encourages worker morale, productivity and motivation.

CBT fulfils two contradictory aims in well designed programs. Firstly, by delivering consistent course content, the computer as tutor may also accommodate the individual learner, who may exercise a wide degree of control over the pace of his or her learning. In many programs, trainees have the option of accelerating their progress through a course or slowing down the pace for extended periods of revision and reinforcement of material presented. In some programs that allow for case study analysis of situations, trainees may experience a wide variety of learning scenarios that may not be part of their experience in the real world for some time in the future.

This capability of a CBT program to provide a variety of learning experiences for the trainee demonstrates an effectiveness of teaching methodology that must be clearly designed during the development process of CBT production. There is no room for a haphazard approach in teaching methods in CBT.

The corollary of the effectiveness of teaching methods in CBT is improved training program administration and management. With the computer program tracking and assessing trainee progress much administrative time can be saved. Not only can trainee records be stored economically and efficiently, but trainees and instructors have instant access to an individual's results for the purpose of trainee feedback and predictive analysis for further training programs.

Schank supports the "learning by doing" theory that underlies industry's choice of multimedia as the preferred learning tool.

Students ought to be doing something, not watching something. Multimedia offers a serious way of improving simulation based instruction (as in flight simulation), but to date, it is generally passive in its implementation. (Schank, 1993, p 54)
Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Pennsylvania, is another advocate of multimedia training and has used it successfully since 1986. The provision of training on demand and "the boost to employee morale, self esteem and motivation, which help sustain a self driven, self paced and self directed learning program" have been the results of using this tool (Murphy, 1992, p 34). Muller and Leonetti (1992) and Wright (1993) also agree that making the multimedia decision is a strategy for success in training.

The following account of the Curragh Queensland Mine Project outlines the development of the multimedia product developed by the Instructional Technology Unit, Division of Distance and Continuing Education, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, Australia.

Case Study

Background to the Curragh Mines Project

Curragh Queensland Mine (CQM) is one of a number of coal mines in the Bowen Basin of Central Queensland. It is co-owned by Arco, a US based consortium and a Japanese multi-national company. Traditionally, the training of mine operators has been conducted in the training room, though emphasis centres around demonstration of "on the job" instruction on a one to one basis. The training of coal hauler operators, for example, would normally include two hours a day of text based study over a three day period, with up to five hours a day of practical instruction and actual driving of the vehicles. When the management of CQM instigated a report into the productivity of the mine and an examination of its training of operators, the senior training officer made the following observation.
The cost of poor training practices has an effect on the morale and efficiency of mine operators, not to mention their welfare in terms of safety on the job. Curragh Mine needs training procedures that standardise training across the board, eliminating the idiosyncrasies of instructors whose expertise is often in conflict with modern, safe mining practices. (Luck, 1994)
The other consideration is the fact that Curragh replaces new mining equipment every few years, ranging from multi-million dollar draglines and coal haulers of 240 tons payload, to cranes and fork lifts. Each new piece of equipment is upgraded and modified to suit conditions in the Curragh Queensland Mine. These adjustments to the machines and equipment generate different work practices and can fragment training. Hence the need for a cost efficient solution to a common training problem.

Curragh's decision to incorporate multimedia training into its training program was motivated by the seven considerations referred to earlier. The goals of multimedia training at Curragh Queensland Mine were: to reduce training time and make training available to operators regardless of shift times; to reduce equipment down time during training; to standardise instruction and attend to the individual learning styles of trainees. Sub-goals were to ensure instruction strategies were sound and to significantly reduce training administration time.

The senior training officer of the Curragh Queensland Mine, who had spent the last fifteen years as an operator, investigated the use of computer based training (CBT) as a possible alternative to present training practices. This resulted in the development of a proposal for funding *om the Vocational Educational Training and Employment Council (VETEC) to enable the introduction of CBT.

The proposal for the introduction of CBT

The proposal called for expressions of interest from consultants who could devise computer assisted learning (CAL) packages for six categories of equipment:
  1. overburden drills
  2. a non-slewing crane
  3. fork lift/tyre manipulator
  4. coal haulers - the Terex and Unit Rig
  5. a grader
  6. two front end loaders
The Instructional Technology Unit (ITU), of the Division of Distance Education, Central Queensland University, won the bid from eighty-three other competitors, Australia wide. It was not the lowest tender. Curragh Queensland Mine has stated that ITU was successful because it was able to develop a multimedia product on disk. It is noteworthy that in spite of the fact that a CAL product was the desired goal of the proposal, the ITU proposal was the only one submitted in electronic form - that is, on a computer disk.

The ITU proposal demonstrated an ability to develop training materials that were highly interactive, based on sound instructional practice and made extensive use of innovative graphics. Sound instructional methods encompass a systems approach model that identifies the instructional goals, performance objectives, instructional strategies and evaluation. (Gagne and Briggs, 1979; Knowles, 1980; Holmberg, 1992; Reigeluth, 1983)

Project Brief

The creation of any new project must begin with an examination of the needs of the client, in this case, the management of Curragh Queensland Mine. The brief was to design computer assisted learning packages for mine operators. A major reason for choosing computer based training was to standardise training in the mine operations and hence improve the quality of training and operator performance.

Project Development Process

The development process for preparation of each of the six CAL packages required twelve steps as follows:
  1. Draft structure of the project
  2. Draft Interface
  3. Confirm Structure and Interface
  4. Resource Procurement and Collation
  5. Draft Storyboard
  6. Confirm Storyboard and Resources
  7. Program Beta version
  8. Confirm Beta version
  9. Draft Documentation (if applicable)
  10. Confirm documentation (if applicable)
  11. Release Final Version
  12. Release documentation (if applicable).
The total process required that there be ongoing meetings with the client to establish the precise aims of the project and how these aims may be achieved given the budget, time frame and the delivery platform, and ensure that the project is kept on target.

Hardware and software considerations

With respect to the delivery platform, many industries have a well established IBM network and are hesitant to embark on a multimedia project with a Macintosh platform. The Instructional Technology Unit develops initially on Macintosh computers. If cross platform (Windows) is required, then ITU has the ability (and software) to transfer the Multimedia programs to Windows/DOS. Non-multimedia based CAL applications are developed using TenCORE LAS5.0 (Language Authoring System).

The Curragh Project's budget included specifications for a cross platform of a Windows and Macintosh version. The programmer used the software, Macromedia Director, an Apple application, and later developed a Windows version. The current state of technology in Australia dictates that a programmer must develop a separate Windows package, that has more developmental limitations than a Macintosh version.

Before the completion of this project, however, improvements in software will enable the programmer to develop in a Macintosh application which will allow immediate conversion to a Windows version of the same product.

Interface design - client needs

Design and creation of a suitable interface was a detailed process that incorporated the team's consideration of what the client wanted the target audience to achieve in the program and the main criteria of good interface production. Shneiderman's seminal work "Designing the User Interface" states that designing an object to be simple, clear and "user friendly" requires "relentless pursuit of that simplicity even when obstacles...stand in the way of that simplicity." (1992, p.1)

Through a number of meetings with the Senior Training Officer and other staff and all members of the team (of ITU), it was decided that the interface, the constant screen "face" or frame on the computer screen have a black background, at times textured to appear as coal, with six buttons - HELP - BACK - MENU - MOVIE - QUIT - NEXT appearing on every screen.

This design ensured that trainees were able to access voice instructions whenever they selected the HELP button, or wished to navigate backwards and forwards between screens and "down" an information level. Most importantly, the design allowed them the possibility of quitting the program whenever necessary; an aspect of the program that reflected the flexibility of the administrative management module, which records trainees' results, their place in the lesson and where they are to resume.

The other buttons and their uses are equally apparent. The BACK button allows the user to go to the previous screen. The MENU button shows the user where they are in the overall program and the MOVIE button has a number of functions depending on its use.

Lesson structure

CQM chose to implement CBT because of the need to standardise training and to reap the other benefits that result from using computer mediated training. These advantages were referred to earlier (reduction of training time timeliness and availability of training, a decrease in equipment and resource training requirements, consistency in course content, individualised instruction, effectiveness of teaching methods, improved training program administration and management).

A simple template of nine lessons was established for each module, as each piece of equipment required basically the same type of text manipulation based on the print manuals provided by the machinery's original manufacturer. This template covered only the essential information required by operators for the familiarisation and safe operation of equipment. Emergency procedures such as towing, tagging of machinery and first aid practices are taught by other sectors of the training department. Furthermore, CQM required standardised procedures particularly for safety, maintenance and walk around inspections of equipment. The template used for each piece of equipment is set out as follows:

Lesson OneIntroduction and General Description
Lesson TwoAccess and Instrumentation
Lesson ThreeWalk Around Inspection
Lesson FourStart Up Procedures
Lesson FiveOperation
Lesson SixLoading and Dumping (operations specific to the piece of equipment)
Lesson SevenSafety Issues
Lesson EightShutdown Procedures
Lesson NineMaintenance of the Vehicle

Information synthesis

To ensure sound instructional methodologies, a variety of audio and video segments were included in the program. Trainees are able to relate to actual footage of the equipment and mine site, which in turn sustains their interest and motivation. The inclusion of video and audio segments takes substantial program memory and a development team needs to be aware of this fact as one of the major constraints in multimedia development. A design team can only develop a product that accords with the delivery platform of the client. This consideration was crucial in terms of the quality of the product. It would be pointless conceiving a multimedia package to be delivered on hardware that is incapable of delivering high resolution graphics or which did not have a sound card, for example.

Data collection

The data collection for the modules was principally conducted at the mine site. In this process project team members had the opportunity to further cement a relationship with staff from CQM. During data collection team members lived in the mine township. This occasion provided an important opportunity for team members to learn more about its target audience, (ie. mine operators) and to obtain first hand knowledge of the equipment to be presented in the program.

Storyboard process

Initially, the technical writing (which is often expressed in engineering terminology) versus a didactic style of expression, did not appear as a dominant concern in the storyboard process. It became an issue for the development team due to the lack of variety of textual expression characteristic of the information being conveyed. However, CQM wanted to maintain a serious tone in the training package, even when some safety aspects of the program lent themselves well to animation sequences.

Also, the human factor emerged as a potent design consideration in the development and quality assurance of this project. That is, trainees with limited computer and literacy skills need to be addressed in simple, direct language, with verbs in the active voice, logical explanations that support "caution" or warning advice in the text and graphics to support and thus explain text at every possible opportunity.

The delivery of the beta version

The beta version of a product is a functional version of the final product, but one which requires testing and fine tuning. In the CQM multimedia package, many instruments such as gauges and levers were functional and great efforts were made to ensure that when an operator clicked on a photo of a lamp test button, for example, the whole bank of lights illuminated on the screen, with the correct colour tones for the illuminated globes, as they would appear in the operator's cabin at start up.

The operators became so used to expecting every control and instrument to be functional on screen, that they registered great frustration and dissatisfaction with the program if an instrument appeared on screen as "non-clickable".

It was necessary for the programmer to make every control in each piece of equipment functional when an operator clicked on it with the mouse. Every light, horn, engine noise and seat belt click was made visible or audible on static screens in addition to an extra thirty megabytes of QuickTime (video) movies. The two modules created so far are as close as possible to simulation of the procedures for operating coal haulers as the software would allow.

Programming strategies

The programming stage of the development plan was relatively straightforward due to a simple structuring process. Enhancements regarding colour changes to the text, re-arrangements of graphics, modifications to allow further interactivity, the addition of more video capture and voice over instructions were small adjustments to make to an already pleasing package.

Discussion and analysis

To date, the best vehicle to prepare the text for programming is to type the screen display version directly into Hypercard (a Macintosh application that allows creation of stacks of cards that can be made to link with each other similar to an elaborate filing system). This text file can be configured with similar buttons and text fields as would the final product. The Hypercard version can then be printed and presented to the client for approval and signing off.

This method was reasonably successful for the first two Modules, as it allowed the programmer to create the product from another electronic medium, a time saving procedure that facilitates programming and eliminates duplication of typing time and paper. Version control, however, needs to be strictly enforced to ensure only one version of the storyboard or the electronic program is worked on at any one time.

To ensure that the "human" element of the design had been addressed, efforts were made to address the user as "you" and to convert the passive voice of verbs into active voice. Almost every screen is a combination of text and photo, text, video sound effects and music, or text and line drawing to support the text. There are a very limited number of text only screens.

Program operating instructions were simple and written in a contrasting colour and isolated words or phrases of importance have been written in upper case and highlighted. Procedures and sequences of importance, such as start up, shutdown and maintenance, have been time sequenced or scrolled so that they are repeated on screen as reinforcement for the trainee at a pace the user can select. Movie sequences can be paused and replayed to the user's satisfaction and the whole progression of the program is in the user's control at all times.

Feedback mechanisms were chosen that were positive, such as fanfare trumpets on trainee's successful completion of an activity or assessment item and a humorous voice which comments on an incorrect choice - "that should prove interesting"! These attempts at humour to inject a reasonably light hearted note were made to balance the serious nature of the training and provide interest and variety. Sound instructional strategies needed to be incorporated to reduce trainee apprehension of the medium and communicate a human element to their training. Explanations of procedures and work practices need to reflect logic and relevance to trainees' needs and experiences.

Operators were included as much as possible, in photographs of the components and in the movie segments; for example, a movie of an operator putting on a seat belt with all the attendant sound effects provided a strong point of reference and emphasis on safety for the trainees participating in the program.

Assessment items that had to fit the format of multiple choice questions with four distracters per question were formulated with photograph or scenario choices, rather than questions unrelated to a real context.


This paper has attempted to document some of the significant issues that are part of producing a multimedia training package. Central Queensland University is a pioneer in the mining industry in Australia in this field. Work in progress by the Instructional Technology Unit in the Division of Distance and Continuing Education has already generated much interest in other mining companies and mine machinery manufacturers. For example, the Unit is currently developing a radio simulation device for an underground miner and intends to investigate the feasibility of developing a cost efficient simulation of a dragline, in conjunction with the Faculties of Engineering, Physics and the mine.

The experience from this development is further proof that CBT has the potential to provide excellent instruction provided it is developed in a multi-disciplinary, collegiate team of creative professionals. It also has the capacity "to produce poor instruction at great cost" (Allessi and Trollip, 1991, 475). Industry's choice to incorporate multimedia training is a challenge to institutions such as Central Queensland University to ensure that only excellent multimedia packages are produced.

Furthermore, it is our belief that to obtain cost effective, efficient and well designed CBT materials requires efficient management of a professional design team who are all cognisant of their roles in the development process. Members of such a team need to be flexible, collegiate in their approach to the task and able to tolerate a degree of ambiguity in the production of multimedia materials. Above all, the relationship between the client and design team needs to be fomented so that the client fully understands their role as content expert. When that partnership is established, the client's needs can be fully addressed and training materials, particularly in multimedia format, can be produced in a collaborative and effective manner.

References were not published in the original publication.

Please cite as: Plant, H. and Dekkers, J. (1994). Multimedia instruction of operators in open cut and underground coal mines. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 38-43. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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