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Cost effective training: The interactive multimedia solution

Myles Wilmott
Army Headquarters Training Command, New South Wales
Interactive multimedia technology and computer aided learning offer training solutions that are both cost effective and efficient. Current economic conditions are forcing many companies and organisations, both private and government, to downsize their staffing levels, with an associated effect on their training resources. Training standards and levels of efficiency must however, be retained. This paper examines some potential benefits of interactive multimedia technology as a training resource and explores a range of possible applications. Particular reference is made to the Department of Defence (Army), which is representative of an organisation that faces the training dilemma.


In 1990, the Federal Government introduced the Training Guarantee (Administration) Act with effect from 1 July of that year. This act stipulated that employers, whose total national payroll exceeded the specified threshold amount of $200,000 (as at 1 July 1990), had to allocate 1 per cent of their annual national payroll as a minimum training requirement. Organisations had to design structured training programs that would "maintain or improve employment related skills of employees or other persons" (Training Guarantee (Administration) Act, 1990). In subsequent years, the minimum training requirement rose to 1.5 per cent of their annual national payroll.

Given the current economic conditions, many companies and organisations are faced with the dilemma of downsizing their training manpower resources, while still trying to meet the demands of the Federal Government workplace training requirement., New developments in computer technology have provided an innovative solution to this problem. Computer aided learning courseware now offers an affordable alternative in the achievement of training aims and objectives within the organisational structure. The value of this courseware has been enhanced by continued developments in the field of interactive multimedia technology.

The reduction in training resources is not unique to the private sector. Government departments also face this training dilemma through a reduction in size of the Public Service - both state and federal. The Department of Defence is one such department. This paper focuses on one particular branch of the Department - the Army. The reductions imposed by the recent Force Structure Review have necessitated a review of training methodologies with the aim of maintaining levels of training excellence in the face of reduced availability of funds and resources. The availability of computer aided learning courseware and interactive multimedia tools provides a cost effective approach to achieving the Army's training aims.

Computer aided learning: A training solution

Given the requirements of the new legislation, many organisations are seeking solutions from the rapidly burgeoning area of computer aided learning (CAL). This technology can be applied to a range of occupational streams within an organisation, from simple instructional courseware on the use of a particular program through to interactive 'expert' systems. The cost of introducing CAL is proportionate to the complexity of the subject for which it is being developed. For the purposes of this paper, the term computer aided learning has been used for any situation in which computers and related technology are employed in an instructional or educational context. Interactive multimedia forms a component subset of this domain.

Computer aided learning systems can be used in an instructional role or in the examination of academic performance. Such systems can be used in either group or one on one situations, and may or nay not require the presence of the instructor. These systems increasingly use an interactive multimedia format and are usually self paced, with the user controlling the speed of the training lesson. Given the current economic climate, computer aided learning offers a number of advantages over more traditional training methods, including:

  1. cost effectiveness
  2. quality of training that is controlled and consistent
  3. courseware can be distributed to any part of a large organisation, and
  4. courseware can be modified to meet changing needs.
This technology is now receiving growing interest from the military - both within Australia and overseas.

Computer aided learning: The overseas military experience

Overseas, there has been an ongoing interest amongst the military in the application of computer technology to military training. This interest is driven by a universal need to make training programs more efficient in the face of diminished budgets and reductions in available training time. Resources such as instructors, ammunition, firing ranges and even fuel are less readily available and therefore, alternatives need to be found that allow effective training in the most cost efficient manner. It is generally felt that computer aided learning technologies offer solutions to some of these problems.

This was the theme of a NATO symposium held in Brussels in the Spring of 1985 (Seidel et al, 1987). Sponsored by NATO Defence Research Group Panel VIII, this symposium brought together representatives from many countries to exchange ideas on how burgeoning computer technologies could assist in solving the training dilemma facing the military. One paper defined the problem as being the need 'to provide permanently trained personnel capable of achieving optimum effectiveness of their higher performance weapons and ready to intervene in the shortest possible time in any theatre of operations' (Saint-Raymond, 1987). The paper went on to state that training efforts should provide 'high level instruction to allow substantial savings of munitions, operating costs... and wear' but over shortened periods of time (Saint-Raymond, 1987). It was felt that computer based simulation systems offered a solution to the problem.

Research programs discussed covered a broad spectrum of computer aided learning systems ranging from simulators through authoring systems to systems that used artificial intelligence techniques. This symposium identified a number of areas in which computers could be employed successfully, including 'drills/tutorials... simulations/games, and guidance' (Wiggs et al, 1987). The major limitation at the time was the state of development of computer technology - low cost, powerful desktop computers were not readily available.

Today, the situation has changed. High performance, affordable desktop computers are now commonplace, even amongst the services. This advance in computer hardware has been matched by the development of new software applications. This is particularly the case in the area of computer aided learning. A variety of authoring systems (programs that allow a user to construct computer based lessons/tutorials) are commercially available and these can be used to develop courseware that meets specific training objectives. This courseware can be instructional, interactive or multimedia in format - depending on the training objectives detailed by the course coordinator.

An example of current military courseware was demonstrated at the Fifth World Conference on Computers in Education held in Sydney in July 1990. At the conference, Commanders Mizen and Marley presented a paper on the development and use of computer aided learning by the Royal Navy (Mizen et al, 1990). This program is administered by the Directorate of Naval Educational Training Support and the Royal Naval School of Educational and Training Technology. Accompanying the presentation was a demonstration of a training package entitled ' Rule of the Road', that was used in the training of bridge watch officers. The courseware had been developed to Royal Navy specifications by Rediffusion Simulation Limited using the authoring system TenCORE.

This presentation highlighted a key point in the application of computer aided learning techniques to the solution of training problems. Not all training courses can be developed as computer aided learning courseware, therefore, the specific training objectives of a course must be clearly defined and the Royal Navy found this to be a threefold process. The first step is to establish the operational objectives of a course in terms of

  1. what the trainee will be able to do when he becomes operational and
  2. what the trainers are to achieve within the training establishment.
Having established the objectives, the next step is the production of an instructional specification which defines the exact subject matter of the course and the type of assessment to be undertaken. Finally, the instructional specification is implemented and the results are monitored by using internal and external quality control checks. This process can establish a course's suitability for development as computer aided learning courseware, and can be used by any of the services.

The Royal Navy develop courseware in a number of training areas, including simulation, drill and practice, emulation and surrogate travel. It was found that computer aided learning offered a suitable, cost effective solution to training problems in these areas. In particular, it was found that simulation and drill and practice were areas that showed particular promise for future development and further funding will be made available. In a similar way, this approach could be adopted by the Australian services as a means of overcoming some of our training problems.

Cost effectiveness and performance enhancement

When compared with traditional training methods, computer aided learning can provide a cost effective method for greatly improving training performance, particularly if the courseware is in an interactive multimedia format. This was highlighted in the Report of the Annual Meeting of The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) Subgroup U, Technical Panel UTP-2 held in York, UK in June 1991 (TTCP UTP-2, 1991). The TTCP is a cooperative program in which defence scientists and military personnel from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand meet and discuss technical issues that are of importance to their respective armed forces. TTCP Subgroup U addresses the question of training technologies and how they may improve the cost effectiveness of military training. This is achieved through a program of information exchange and cooperative research among member nations. The 1991 meeting examined a number of training technologies, including the use of interactive instructional systems that utilise laser videodisc.

The assessment of the cost effectiveness of interactive multimedia training courseware is an ongoing area of research around the world. In the military environment, it is the focus of studies being conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The results of this research are published through TTCP Sub Group U Technical Panel UTP-2 as mentioned above.

A US study found that by using interactive laser videodisc technology, an improvement of around 0.50 standard deviations over less interactive, more conventional approaches to instruction' could be achieved (TTCP UTP-2, 1991). This equates to raising a student's results from the 50th percentile to the 69th percentile. Similar results were noted across 24 military training subjects with results being increased from the 50th to the 65th percentile. The final assessment of this report was that this particular training technology was cost effective and training efficient and that it be 'routinely considered for use in military training and education' (TTCP UTP-2, 1991). These findings were expanded in a later US study on the effectiveness and cost of interactive videodisc instruction (IVI) in defence training. This study produced a number of important results regarding the performance effectiveness and cost of interactive training technology (Fletcher, 1991). The following observations were made in terms of performance enhancement:

  1. IVI was more effective than conventional modes of instruction used in military training. In 24 comparisons studied, IVI on average increased 50th percentile students to about the 65th percentile of achievement.

  2. In higher education, IVI was more effective than conventional modes of instruction. A total of 14 comparisons were made with an average increase in student performance from the 50th percentile to around the 75th percentile.

  3. In terms of knowledge and performance outcomes, IVI was found to be equally effective. A sample of 27 knowledge outcomes and 20 performance outcomes resulted in improvements of 50th percentile students to around the 64th percentile.

  4. The more interactive the courseware was, the greater the effect in the resulting instruction.

  5. IVI was found to be more effective than computer based instruction that did not use any videodisc interaction.

  6. It was found that the within group variability was smaller in IVI than in conventional instruction. This would suggest that there was a more equitable distribution of achievement when using IVI.
In terms of the cost effectiveness of this interactive technology, the study drew the following conclusion:
In a survey of 13 situations, a cost ratio was calculated comparing the costs of IVI to the costs of conventional forms of military training. The results of the survey showed that IVI was less costly and resulted in a time saving across the situations of 31 per cent, which can be translated into an immediate dollar saving.
In his conclusion, Fletcher noted that 'the 47 studies reviewed here indicate that interactive videodisc instruction is both more effective and less costly than conventional instruction' (Fletcher, 1991).

Another TTCP study on the cost effectiveness of interactive courseware (ICW) in the military environment was presented as a draft paper at Victoria, Canada in June 1992. In addition to assessing Fletcher's earlier work, the paper observed that in 24 studies conducted in military training, the effect size was found to be higher with the adoption of an interactive technology. The study concluded that 'across many instructional settings and subject matters, ICW programs have been found to be more effective than conventional instructional programs' (TTCP, 1992). In terms of evaluating the cost effectiveness of ICW, the paper urged the adoption of Kazanowski's ten step approach to cost effectiveness evaluation. Originally designed for evaluating the cost effectiveness of weapons systems, the methodology can be adapted to cost effectiveness studies in other technologies. His ten points can be summarised as follows:

  1. Define the objectives.
  2. Identify the mission requirements.
  3. Develop alternatives.
  4. Design the effectiveness evaluation.
  5. Select a fixed effectiveness or a fixed cost approach.
  6. Determine the capabilities of alternative systems.
  7. Tabulate alternatives and measures.
  8. Analyse the strengths of alternate systems.
  9. Perform a sensitivity analysis.
  10. Document the bases of the other nine points.
The study concluded that the cost effectiveness of ICW must be assessed on a case by case basis, taking account of alternatives, training objectives and subject matter. It would appear, however, that the US and Canada feel that interactive multimedia training technology offers a cost effective solution to particular training problems.

Similar success can be achieved by the use of other computer aided learning technologies. For example, the Royal Navy has found that by introducing a CAL keyboard trainer with high quality courseware into one particular weapon systems training course, the course failure rate has dropped from 20 percent to 3 percent. In the area of drill and practice, results indicate that both trainees and trainers respond positively to the use of CAL systems (Mizen et al, 1990). Likewise, a paper presented at the 1985 NATO symposium discussed the results of initial trials by the British Army of a computerised part task trainer (PTT) for the new Chieftain tank Improved Fire Control System (IFCS). These trials showed that by using the part task trainer in conjunction with the standard Gunnery Training Simulator, trainee gunners increased their percentage of hits from 10 percent to 44 percent, with an associated drop in procedural errors from 61 percent to 27 percent (Heaton, 1987). Results such as these indicate a positive benefit that can be obtained from the appropriate use of computer aided learning in different areas of military training.

Computer aided learning and the Australian Defence Force

The Australian Defence Force (ADF), like their overseas counterparts, face the problem of trying to maintain efficient and effective training with a decrease in the amount of available resources. The use of computer aided learning technology must be considered when formulating a solution to the problem. This technology can be applied to many areas of military training and the development of high quality courseware provides a number of important advantages:
  1. the quality of training packages can be controlled,
  2. training packages can be distributed to units, thereby overcoming the problems of bringing units to a central training establishment,
  3. the level of unit training can be standardised around the country,
  4. courseware can be easily updated to reflect changing training needs and
  5. overall training costs in certain areas can be reduced.
The initial cost of implementing computer aided learning can be outweighed by the long term advantages offered by such systems.

In 1991, Army Training Command set a goal to 'increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the Command through the greater use of technology' (Training To Win, 1990). It was recognised that over the next decade, significant changes will take place within Army. Manpower and budgetary constraints are likely to become tighter, costs increase and training resources will, most likely, be reduced. In spite of these changes, any training methods that are adopted must still achieve suitable levels of efficiency.

It Is felt that one solution is offered by the new developments in interactive multimedia technology. This technology allows the development of training courseware that maintains levels of efficiency. tailored to the constraints of funding and resources. With this in mind, a discussion paper entitled 2020 Vision has been written that outlines a possible strategy for the implementation of this technology. It must be emphasised that this paper is only a discussion paper on a particular concept and does not represent any official policy or strategy. However, it does contain some interesting ideas on the adoption of interactive multimedia technology into an organisation's training program.

Before one could implement a training methodology that utilised interactive multimedia, a number of system requirements would need to be identified. These would include the following:

The implementation of such a concept would be an evolutionary process determined by the Army's training goals and requirements.

The paper discusses a possible future scenario that sees the development of a number of Multimedia and Interactive Training Centres (MITC) near to concentrations of trainees. These centres would function as learning facilities for both Regular and Reserve components of Army, and to distribute training to local units. The MITCs would he networked together and to a central Multimedia and Interactive Training Development Centre (MITDC). Training programs would be developed at the MITDC utilising all facets of multimedia technology including virtual reality and teleconferencing. Administering the structure would be the Multimedia and Interactive Training Centre Headquarters (MITCH). The role of the MITCH would include a research and development component to monitor developments in multimedia technology to ensure the currency of fielded systems.

The discussion paper proposes the use of many technologies, for example Digital Video Interactive, CD-ROM and CD-I, but it does not refer to the new developments in high speed networks for the transmission of large volumes of data. Such networks facilitate distributed multimedia training over large distances. The ability of these networks to quickly transmit large volumes of data, in any format, over large distances will force a review of current systems. Technologies such as CD-ROM and CD-1 may well become obsolete as a method of data transfer.

As it is proposed, the 2020 Vision concept offers an innovative training solution to Army as it approaches the 21st Century. Its implementation would be challenging but the potential benefits in terms of efficiency and cost effectiveness would be high. Such a system would have an inherent flexibility, providing trainers with tools to design solutions to new training problems as they arise.

Interactive multimedia: A solution to a problem

The development of high speed networks alluded to earlier, reflect the advances that are being made in all areas of communications technology. Such advances in turn lead to a greater level of interaction between people, between organisations and between countries. This interaction is reflected in all aspects of society - in commerce, politics and education. Australia is no longer geographically isolated and must alter many of its traditional economic and defence perspectives. A new sense of cooperation is developing between Australia and its Asian neighbours. The resultant interchange at the political and professional level is forcing Australians to become aware of the need to develop multilingual skills. The ability to communicate in a common language overcomes many obstacles in any cooperative program.

A reflection of Army's awareness of the advantages in having officers who are bilingual is the proposal that from January 2001, Army officers must have a colloquial proficiency in a regional language. This would be a core requirement for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. It is felt that such a policy would contribute to the growth of regional understanding and cooperation. It must be acknowledged, however, that not everyone has an aptitude for languages. As an alternative to language training, study programs in Asian culture could be developed.

How such a proposal could be implemented is a question that needs to be resolved. Cost is a critical factor, as is the availability of resources in term of facilities and instructors. The defence force has a School of Languages, administered by the Royal Australian Air Force, but this is a single facility with limited student capacity. Other solutions must be found.

Interactive multimedia technology could well offer the necessary solution. By utilising this technology, training packages could be developed that combine the functionality the language laboratory, grammar texts and tutorials into a single package. Packages would provide exercises in basic grammar, sentence repetition and finally conversational dialogue. Packages could be tailored for different levels of language proficiency ranging from a basic understanding of a language through to colloquial fluency.

A number of computer based language packages are available commercially, ranging from simple phrase and grammar teachers through to CD-ROM based language courses. It would seem though that none of this courseware has yet taken full advantage of the burgeoning world of interactive multimedia.


Today, many organisations, including the military, face a major problem in providing high quality training in an environment governed by decreasing resources in terms of budget, equipment, qualified manpower and training time. Cost effective and efficient solutions need to found in order to overcome this situation. Computer aided learning and interactive multimedia technology provide such a solution. Overseas, these systems are being used by military training establishments, with new research programs defining the way ahead. Australia is in the position where it can benefit from this research and could apply the technology as a solution to some of the current problems confronting military trainers. This paper has highlighted the growing importance of interactive multimedia systems and has suggested some possible areas of implementation within the defence environment. Given the constraints of resources and cost, interactive multimedia technology is an integral part of any future training methodology.


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Wiggs, C. L. & Seidel, R. J. (1987). An overview of computer based instruction in military environments, 2. In Seidel, R. J. & Weddle, P. D. (Eds), Computer based instruction in military environments. New York: Plenum Press.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defence or the Australian Defence Force.

Author: Myles Wilmott
Army Battle Simulation Group, Headquarters
Training Command, Suakin Drive, Mosman NSW 2088
Tel. 02 960 9296 Fax. 02 969 1145

Please cite as: Wilmott, M. (1994). Cost effective training: The interactive multimedia solution. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 583-588. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/wilmott.html

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