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Multimedia architects and the politics of success

Michael Crock
Central Queensland University
Fons Nouwens
Central Queensland University
Janise Richards
University of Texas at San Antonio


As the education, government and industry sectors embrace the concepts of flexible learning and interactive multimedia, there emerges an increasing demand for the critical professional: the "Multimedia Architect". An ill defined occupation, it is defined in this paper as a group of individuals engaged in the construction of flexible, digital technology based learning and information systems. This occupation encompasses the range of practicing professionals concerned with the promotion and overall planning, design, production, implementation and evaluation and improvement of flexible learning/ interactive multimedia environments and resources. They are those responsible for the emergence of education and training systems that focus on learner/trainee centred programs exploiting the full range of available delivery and support media and systems. While it has been argued that success in the establishment of flexible learning/multimedia systems can be assessed and rated against economic, organisational, pedagogical, technological and political factors, political considerations at national and state levels and their impact on the remaining factors is the subject of review in this paper. This paper will investigate current activities within education and industry based organisations that show a growing commitment to the concept of flexible/ interactive multimedia learning as well as proposing a model for the professional development of staff as general or specialised 'Multimedia Architects'. It provides a framework that identifies critical success factors for implementation of flexible and interactive multimedia learning and concludes by showing that while key political success factors are now in place, the critical success factor that is as yet unaccounted for is the development of an appropriate skills base for Multimedia Architect professionals.

The need for open and interactive learning services

Great social and economic benefits may be gained by combining new developments in multimedia learning materials with communications technologies to provide open and flexible education and training. Communication technologies make possible high quality multimedia learning materials to be combined with interaction between groups of learners and their teachers at places and times that suit both each participant and organisational needs. Such interactive/ multimedia instruction challenges us to develop a new facilitative teaching and learning culture, to improve multimedia learning materials and use communication technologies to encourage more effective learning.

The possibilities contained in these technological developments can give new meaning to the concept of open learning. While they can not replace direct face to face teaching where this is most appropriate, these technologies can offer more open education, that is education that provides what is required, when, where, and how it is required. The concept of 'Just in time' learning is becoming a reality.

There is a growing convergence between the open learning possibilities offered by these technologies and the new needs for education and training that are generated by the effects of rapid technological change. For example, a major manufacturer of communications products has indicated in personal discussions that between now and the year 2000, they envisaged an increase of 30, 000 staff in the Asia Pacific region and expect to have to train 300, 000 distributors and keep them up to date in their product knowledge. This manufacturer sees the development of multimedia based global information and training systems as the only feasible solution to training on this scale.

Government investment in open learning and flexible delivery of education and training, plus increasing industry use, indicates widespread support for interactive/ multimedia developments. The Cutler Report Commerce in Content (Cutler & Buckeridge, 1994) predicts that by the end of the decade, the Australian multimedia market could be worth $2 to $3 billion and the export market may be worth more than $200 million. Education, training and infotainment would be substantial components of this market.

Why Australia needs research and development in open and interactive learning services

Australia is at an "information superhighway" crossroad. The Cutler Report suggests we have less than three years to establish a presence in the world multimedia market. Such a presence will depend on both an adequate supply of well prepared professionals to develop interactive/ multimedia products and services and productive research that will maintain our competitive edge.

At present, the three sectors, education, industry and government agencies have not developed a forum to provide a national focus for research in this area or coordinate the national education programs required. To be successful in this area a coordinating organisation would need to collaborate across the three sectors and collect a critical mass of expertise to provide a national focus for research, teaching and industry support.

Specifically, it should and would need to

Government initiatives

The Australian Government is establishing priorities and substantial support measures to develop interactive/ multimedia services and products to ensure Australia remains in control of its own destiny in this area (eg. the Australian Multimedia Enterprise, Australia On-Line, the establishment of Cooperative Multimedia Centres) (Keating, 1994). In addition, Australia wants to maintain and build its export market advantage in this industry. Over the past few years the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments have invested heavily in technological developments within the education and training sectors. Because these projects are in the early stages of the innovation process, these investments have yet to produce full dividends. Continuing support for interactive/ multimedia development demonstrates a conviction in government, industry, education and training organisations that these technologies will contribute significantly to Australia's economic and social future. The Prime Minister's (Keating, 1995) statement of 6 December 1995, 'Innovate Australia' reinforces these policy developments of encouraging industry to explore new applications of information technologies and systems.

The need for interactive/ multimedia professionals

Experts in areas related to interactive/ multimedia (computing, communication and publishing) openly agree that professional skills must be developed in the workforce to exploit the potential of interactive/ multimedia. Quality education and training systems and professional services need to be developed urgently in Australia to establish competence in the use of interactive/ multimedia technologies. The time available to establish coherent professional education and training programs and a research and development base in interactive/ multimedia is relatively short. The development of such a base needs to be significantly under way within the next 6 months and firmly established in the next two to three years.

Developing interactive/ multimedia products requires the coordination of expertise from a range of disciplines including computer scientists, computer programmers, graphic artists, communication specialists, videographers, and educationalists. Such developments are a new experience for all involved and require professionals with strong interdisciplinary and technical skills. Because technological developments have been considerable in the past few years and developments continue to occur at a rapid pace, a close relationship between research and teaching must be maintained to ensure that teaching programs are based on up to date, valid and reliable information. Indeed, the rapid pace of change in this area demands new teaching infrastructures and a significant change to traditional teaching and learning cultures. What is required is greater integration of the cultures of work, research and teaching possibly using studio based models suggested by Schon (1987). With the advent of more powerful information technologies, a need has arisen for individuals who can combine professional and technical skills in creative ways. From the education and training perspective individuals must have a broad interdisciplinary knowledge and an awareness of research and development. They must be able to analyse the learning situation, choose the correct materials from each of the areas (ie. learning strategies, technology, and media) and "build" the most appropriate interactive/ multimedia environment for each particular situation.

Interactive/ multimedia architects

Based on the foregoing there is clearly a requirement for experts whom we have called "interactive/ multimedia architects" who can demonstrate a broad view of the various skills and disciplines necessary for the production and implementation of quality programs. They are required to design packages and coordinate the "building" of multimedia products and systems that deliver interactive teaching and training services in much the same way as an architect is responsible to clients for all facets of building construction. As seen in the figure below, the "interactive/ multimedia architect" fills the "grey area" where the computer and communications, technologies, and the education and training domains overlap. While the concept of the "interactive/ multimedia architect" was developed specifically with reference to the requirements of the education and training sector, persons with similar skills would also be useful in producing more generic multimedia products for other areas such as entertainment or marketing. The education and training sphere may be complemented by skills in human communication, media, cultural studies or marketing. Because interactive/multimedia products and services change rapidly with developments in technology and market needs, research and teaching objectives for professional development programs would need to be extended to facilitate skills development and integration of skills (multiskilling) across all three areas to produce a pool of "multimedia producers" with specific development and delivery skills.

Interactive multimedia architect diagram 1

Coordinated research and skills development

To provide an effective skills base for multimedia architects, organisations will need to focus on the development of the skills of individuals to assist them to produce quality products and services as efficiently as possible and to support individuals and organisations to solve problems they encounter. While development of content is an overt result of such endeavours, the primary purpose of education and research activities is to facilitate the 'best practice' approach to the development, delivery and support of products and services. Organisations' key focus for research should be on the development and use of multimedia products and interactive communications technologies and their integration into effective and open education and training systems. This would entail extension of research into: Interactive/multimedia teaching and learning are relatively new developments that offer a productive field for research. Coordination of research and teaching is central to maximising impact on a national level because such a coordinated approach, through the close links it would build within practitioners in education, industry and government , would assist the wider interactive multimedia industry in responding to critical industry problems by providing individuals with the research skills and information needed to become innovative practitioners.

At present, the comprehensive, multidisciplinary educational programs envisaged for development of competent interactive/multimedia architects are not widely available or accessible to individuals interested in a professional career in this area. Most professionals currently engaged in the area possess some formal training in specialist areas such as computer science, communications technology, information technology, systems analysis, programming, business, human resource management, human communications, cultural studies, instructional design, education, media production, graphic design or graphic arts. Programs that provide a holistic program of study have not been found.

To realise the promise of these new technologies in education and training, the interactive/ multimedia architect must bring together the activities of specialists in two technologically advancing areas, multimedia product development and interactive learner support using new communications technologies. The diagram below illustrates the position.

Interactive multimedia architect diagram 2

Organisations need to develop curriculum that recognises individuals existing formal and informal learning (recognition of prior learning) and provides the learning opportunities necessary for students to cover core areas of knowledge and skills. Research projects may be interdisciplinary or focused on particular specialist areas to investigate particular problems or develop innovative products or services. Many potential clients will be mature students already working in the field and seeking professional qualifications. To encourage their participation, courses will need be offered by flexible delivery using multimedia and print based instructional packages. Interactive communication technologies would need to be used to support students. This format would allow an organisation to provide its educational programs throughout Australia and overseas, giving a national focus for interactive/ multimedia teaching. Individuals would also gain experience in the use of exemplary learning materials and support processes.

A brief selection of education initiatives

In a article by Latchem, Herrmann & Guiton (1995), the impact of the rapid rise of interest and activity in the flexible and open learning arenas on and by some of Australia's significant distance education providers is reviewed by providing case histories of 8 institutions. In its conclusions the article made the point that "...Australian distance educators are operating within a complex ever changing political and educational contexts" and "that political and economic factors lead government to consider open and flexible delivery option." (Latchem, et al, p.226)

Within the education sector this paper raises the spectre of the demise of traditional structures associated with distance education, moving towards more integrated models of design, development, delivery and support of educational programs. The reality of a growing focus on the establishment of learning environments utilising the full range of interactive multimedia options is one logical conclusion from this review, as is the importance of the professional development of staff and learning support for students.

Reflecting this reality, a number of educational institutions have moved in this direction. The University of South Australia has undertaken a significant program of strategic planning to allow the University to establish a more appropriate learning environment in the future. One result of this process has been the establishment this year of a Flexible Learning Centre which is to provide (Bradley, 1994):

Griffith University as well has undertaken an extensive review of flexible learning which included, amongst a range of others, the following three terms of reference (Gordon Joughin Training Strategies Pty Ltd, 1995): Griffith are currently in the process of determining the nature of organisational structures and activities which will facilitate their future flexible, open and interactive multimedia ventures.

Cooperative multimedia centres: A joint education, industry and government initiative

One of the more visible cross sector initiatives which is currently under way is the establishment of up to six Cooperative Multimedia Centres across Australia. A result of the Federal Government's Creative Nation statement, it was put forward that "Cooperative Multimedia Centres are designed to enable the education and training sector to do its own job better and more cost effectively while providing an important platform for the development of a major export industry" (Keating, 1994).

The STARLIT (Systematic Training and Research in Learning with Interactive Technologies) is one such CMC bid which contains six consortium members from industry (Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, & NewMedia Corporation) and education (Central Queensland University, Griffith University, & The University of Wollongong) as well as more than twenty strategic partners across Australia and Australasia [ See Impart, http://www.impart.com.au/, the successor to STARLIT].

The following provides a brief description of STARLIT's aims and objectives.

Vision statement

Through the development of 'robust' processes for new media development, processes that are grounded in best practice, STARLIT Multimedia CMC will educate and train Australians to a world class standard in the application, design, development, marketing, delivery and management of flexible learning technologies and products to help make Australia a significant and profitable contributor to the Global Information Society.


Interactive multimedia learning systems are learning systems that encourage effective learning. They provide both course materials in a range of effective media and learner support including online support appropriate to the total learning context. The fields of education, training and information presentation are of primary interest to this Consortium.

The STARLIT Multimedia CMC aims to


STARLIT CMC predominantly aims to Presently, development of leading edge training resources has occurred very much on an "ad hoc" basis. Clearly, if the Australian industry is to lead the world in this exciting field, a "world's best practice" methodology for the design, writing, development and delivery of learning systems needs to be developed. The realisation of such methodology is the cornerstone of STARLIT CMC's ongoing education and training strategy.

STARLIT's corporate partners have access to world class multimedia education and training development centres. Access to these will provide the initial benchmark and reference against which future methodology development can take place.

PAGE: An education and industry forum scenario

The PAGE (Professional and Graduate Education) consortium has itself been involved in a number of initiatives which support the concept of professional education for 'multimedia architects'. Specifically, this year PAGE was involved in a series of workshops, the last being a training program on managing and marketing flexible education. The aims of the workshop series overall were threefold: The final workshop, managing and marketing flexible education, had the specific aim to formulate a management plan for developing and implementing a flexible learning/multimedia study program. Components of the management plan include plans for marketing, operations procedures and quality assurance. The framework for this workshop (Nouwens, 1995) provides a valuable framework for considering not only this specific range of educational packages, but for the broader application of interactive multimedia products and services. The framework is shown in Attachment A. It illustrates aspects of the role of the multimedia architect as a professional with a holistic view of both client(s) needs and the multimedia development process. An elaboration of the first component of this framework, 'Defining the Context ', is also contained in the attachment as it lead us to the final area of consideration in this paper, the factors for success and the role of politics in building a skills base for Multimedia Architects in Australia.

Factors for success in the interactive multimedia arena

In a recent research project (Crock, 1993) aimed at providing insight into the uneven adoption of the use of instructional technologies in education and training, five key criteria were identified as having a significant impact on the successful introduction and ongoing use of the instructional technologies in general and specifically computer based applications. These five were (after Crock, 1993) While research has shown the need to consider all such factors in an interdisciplinary fashion (Reeves, 1992; McBeath and Atkinson, 1992; and Ross, 1992), it is also worth noting that the results of recent interdisciplinary research (Crock, 1993) showed that skilled professional staff was consistently identified as a critical success criteria for all levels of activity (from small scale applications of instructional technologies to large organisational applications), while the influence of organisational issues, policy and politics became dominant in the introduction of large scale instructional technology initiatives.

This leads us back to the role of politics and the successful creation of an interactive multimedia industry in Australia. As discussed earlier in this paper, there are a number of Government initiatives which are actively promoting the creation of a multimedia industry in Australia. Thus two critical success factors are accounted for. They are policy and political support. This political support must be translated into action by securing practical support for the two other factors identified as crucial for success, namely organisational change and the development of a skills base for multimedia development. Initiatives in education and training can address both of these factors, the critical factor for success is the establishment and ongoing development of the Multimedia Architect skills base.

To ensure medium to long term success in establishing Australia's global role in the emerging interactive multimedia market, the politics of initiatives must translate into the development and maintenance of the human resources for this industry. While the influence of policy and politics is often one of the more difficult success criteria to measure, it has one of the most significant exceptionally subtle, impacts on the overall success of large technology based initiatives. As with all matters political, continued awareness and vigilance are required to ensure appropriate contributions to the political debate when such contributions are politically viable. This point is strongly made by Bates (1995) in discussing the development of a vision in open and distance learning, where he clearly indicates one must develop and actively work at a vision, gain commitment at all levels of an organisation and undertake an annual environmental scan of political, economic, social and technological trends to keep the vision and momentum in tune with events.

Across education and industry, the development of appropriately skilled Multimedia Architects will provide a holistic practical research and political view. Such skills are the common success elements which are essential for current political agendas to be met, economic returns in the multimedia industry to be realised and investment in technology to be maximised.


Bates, A. W. (1995). Creating the Future: Developing vision in open and distance learning, in Lockwood, F. (Ed), Open and Distance Learning Today. London: Routledge, 42-51.

Bradley, D. (1994). Reshaping support for flexible learning. Internal strategic planning document, Adelaide: University of South Australia.

Crock, M. L. (1993). Determining Success: An Exploration of the Critical Success Criteria for the Design, Production and Implementation of Computer Based Education and Training, Doctoral Thesis, Brisbane: Griffith University - Faculty of Education.

Cutler, T. and Buckeridge, R. (1994). Commerce in Content: Building Australia's International Future in Interactive Multimedia Markets. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Industry Science and Technology.

Gordon Joughin Training Strategies Pty Ltd (1995). Aspects of Flexible Learning at Griffith University. A Griffith Institute for Higher Education Commissioned Project. Brisbane: Griffith University.

Keating, P. The Hon. Prime Minister (1994). Creative Nations statement - 18 October 1994, Canberra: Office of the Prime Minister.

Keating, P. The Hon. Prime Minister (1995). Innovate Australia statement - 6 December, 1996, Canberra: Office of the Prime Minister.

Latchem, C, Herrmann, A. and Guiton, P. (1995). Open and Flexible Delivery: Demarginalisation or Demise for Distance Educators, in Nouwens, F. (Ed), Distance Education - Crossing Frontiers: Papers for the 12th Biennial Forum of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (Vanuatu, September 1995), Rockhampton: Central Queensland University, 223-227.

McBeath, C. and Atkinson, R. (1992). Curriculum, instructional design and the technologies: Communicating the educational message. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 603-612. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/mcbeath.html

Nouwens, F. (1995). Managing Flexible Education: A Planning Checklist. Workshop resource for the PAGE Workshop 3: Managing and Marketing Flexible Education, October 1995. Brisbane: PAGE Consortium.

Reeves, T. C. (1991). Ten Commandments for the Evaluation of Interactive Multimedia in Higher Education. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 2(2), 84-113.

Ross, R. (1992). Towards a Strategy for Implementing Information Technology in Teaching on an Institution wide Basis. Information Technology for Training and Education 92, Conference Proceedings, Brisbane: The University of Queensland, 509-510.

Schon, D. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Attachment A

Managing Flexible Education: Planning Checklist - Defining Your Project
1.Define the context

1.1Profile your organisation

1.2Identify and consult stakeholders
2.Define needs

2.1Conduct market analysis

2.2Conduct an educational feasibility study

2.3Analyse learner needs

2.4Analyse need for education
3.Generating flexible education responses to needs

3.1Establish the project team

3.2Create broad concepts

3.3Outline marketing plan

3.4Choose existing environment, resources and infrastructure

3.5Prepare and evaluate a draft educational plan

3.6Develop a project plan

3.7Prepare timelines
4.Establish operating procedures

4.1Record keeping

4.2Legislative and accounting requirements

Elaboration: Define the context

1.1Profile your organisation
      Organisational structure
      Products, services, target markets, customer types
      Achievements to date
      Mission statement
      Knowledge and experience in project area
      List of relevant personnel
      Internal factors
        resources available
        personnel available
        infrastructure available
        capacity to undertake project
      External factors
        legal/ political factors
    SWOT analysis
      strengths and weaknesses (internal environmental factors)
      opportunities and threats (external environmental factors)
    Objectives for proposed project
      Check: are they specific, measurable, achievable, relevant?
      Are they congruent with the organisation's profile?

1.2Identify and consult stakeholders
    Who owns (can stop) the project?
    Who are the clients?
    Who will do the work?
    Who will champion the project?
    Who will resist the project?

Authors: Dr Michael Crock
Deputy Head, Division of Distance and Continuing Education
Central Queensland University
Rockhampton QLD 4702
Ph: (079) 309 297 Fax: (079) 309 792
Email: m.crock@cqu.edu.au

Ms Janise Richards
Instructional Courseware Specialist, Division of Instructional Development
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
7703 Floyd Curl Drive
San Antonio, Texas, USA 78284-7896
Ph: (210) 567 2280 Fax: 210) 567 2281
Email: Richards@UTHSCSA.edu

Mr Fons Nouwens
Head, Projects Unit, Division of Distance and Continuing Education
Central Queensland University
Rockhampton QLD 4702
Ph: (079) 309 577 Fax: (079) 309 792
Email: f.nouwens@cqu.edu.au

Please cite as: Crock, M., Nouwens, F. and Richards, J. (1996). Multimedia architects and the politics of success. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 87-94. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ad/crock.html

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