IIMS 96 contents
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Networked multimedia: A learning support system

Steve Fisher
AirServices Australia
A computer system that creates, delivers and monitors interactive multimedia in a networked environment is described. This system was developed as a "learning support system" to overcome fundamental problems considered to exist in contemporary computer based training ie. a) multimedia development tools that are not user friendly for instructional designers or educators; b) a pedagogy of directed teaching rather than learner centred, c) content which is static and difficult to upgrade with a focus on CD-ROMs and d) an inability to monitor individual student and group data for assessment and participation. The learning support system developed here operates by using "viewer engines" on user PCs to "assemble" multimedia from remote or local databases. Students can engage in a number of learning activities additional to usual tutorial computer lessons.


The Air Traffic Control Division of AirServices Australia (formerly the Civil Aviation Authority) has some 1200 air traffic controllers across Australia who require training continuously in new procedures and skills throughout their working life. The traditional method of conducting "offline" training courses is costly in terms of human resources, re-scheduling rosters, overtime, training resource limitations and is proving increasingly difficult to provide remedial or refresher training for such a dynamic work environment.

An internal Computer Based Training Unit has designed, developed and implemented a learning support system which provides the recognised benefits of interactive multimedia over a network based development and delivery system. This system has efficiencies over a contemporary model of multimedia production and instructional design by applying performance support principles on currently available communication bandwidths and computer technologies.

The system was designed and built within 10 months (including content lessons). Currently "training" is being delivered in all states from the central Computer Based Unit in Brisbane. This system provides a model for other organisations or groups wishing to use multimedia for communication (two way information exchange) be it in training, education, direct performance support, product updates, point of sale etc.

Functional description of the system

Users enter the system at four different levels: Student, Instructor, Developer and Manager. Each level presents an graphic user interface that supports their particular performance within the training/learning environment.
  1. Student .. show me, tell me, let me try, give me feedback, define, what if?

    After logging into the system, the student's screen resembles an air traffic control environment, where they can choose a number of learning activities:

  2. Instructor (teacher).. familiarise with the content, review student results, communicate with students ....

    Instructor access allows:

  3. Developer .. create lessons, provide examples, models, test student performance, list resources ....

    Developer access allows:

  4. Manager .. create student groups, assign lessons, set performance standards, monitor results ....

    Manager access allows:

Physical description of the system


  1. Delivery "engine" software for delivery computers (less than 5 MB)
  2. Central database files (challenge question database, assessment question database, reference database, resource library database) that combined with the "engine", deliver the lessons.
  3. Management Information System
  4. Multimedia development software called Instructional Design Companion, that contains information, interaction, question and feedback templates.

Optimal PC delivery specifications

486DX2/66 , 256 kB cache, 12 MB RAM, 340 MB HDD, 15 inch NI monitor (NEC3V), MS DOS 6.2, Windows 3.1 or Win 95, 1.44 MB FDD, 1 MB VESA Video Card, 2 serial, 1 parallel ports, Microsoft Serial Mouse, 101 key keyboard, internal CD-ROM, Soundcard and speakers

Current network used

Local file server databases are downloaded with content via 128 kb/s ISDN links which allow uploading of student results, group participation, etc. LANs operate in a Windows for Workgroups environment.

Table 1: How the training support system differs from current multimedia products

Contemporary multimedia Training support system
Technical factors
Full multimedia
Narrow bandwidth - emphasis on CD-ROM
No email facility
Some recording of results and feedback to students
Uses authoring software (Director, Authorware) oriented to programmers
Code is "hardwired" - script or specific iconology
No MIS (course structuring, group data, assessment standards)
Static content - new versions require manual distribution
Discrete courseware content
Individual project approach
Little or no consideration of converging technologies
Inflexible delivery medium (CD-ROM)
Full multimedia
Available bandwidth - emphasis on networks
Email facility
Full recording of results and feedback to students
Uses embedded software oriented to Instructional Designers and subject matter experts
Code is contained in databases - object oriented programming
Full MIS (course structuring, group data, assessment standards)
Dynamic content - new versions require network distribution
Shared courseware content
Systems approach
Adaptable to converging technologies
Scalable delivery medium (standalone-LAN-WAN)
Training/educational factors
Teacher/Instructional Designer oriented content design
Target group is homogenous (receives same content)
Storyboarding design - unique specification of content features (animation, graphics, navigation, etc)
Interaction defined by user action at screen level
Focus is on instruction/teaching/training
Training considered an "event" - discrete instruction
No communication or monitoring of results
Learner performance oriented design
Target group is heterogenous (individual determines content)
Template driven - input of content only (features are predesigned eg. navigation)
Interaction defined at screen level and by learners activity choice
Focus is on performance support/learning/simulation
Training considered as a "process" - "just in time" training
Online communication and monitoring of results
Cost factors
High order team skills - technically oriented
Long production times
Little or no maintenance (version updates, redistribution, platform compatibility)
Little or no networking costs
Costs driven by individual projects - some resource duplication inter-project
Internal, external or mix of multimedia providers
Some resource sharing between projects
High order team skills - content/design oriented
Reduced production times
Inherent maintenance and compatibility
Networking costs to suit delivery required
Costs driven by establishing system - no resource duplication
Internal, external or mix of multimedia providers
Full resource sharing from databases
Cost benefits with large target groups
Individualised delivery
Standardised content delivery
Success measured on completing the course/ CD-ROM/ lessons
Increased knowledge retention/ learning
Students motivated by multimedia software ("law of diminishing astonishment")
Cost benefits with large target groups
Individualised delivery
Standardised content delivery which is easily updated
Success measured in performance and underlying knowledge assessment
Increased performance/ skilling
Students identify system as a continuous learning support tool (technology should be transparent)

Critical success factors

Academic literature and anecdotal evidence describes factors required for successful implementation of multimedia into a training/education context. What is listed hereunder isn't exhaustive but represents some of the issues experienced by the author from both a training/education and technical viewpoint, that were critical in developing and implementing this system. The order of the list is in no particular priority.

Future directions: where is technology heading?

The exponential growth of the Internet with email, FTP and World Wide Web facilities is occurring during the emergence of a plethora of private and government initiatives with converging technologies. One of the commonalities within the "confusion" is that content rules! Whatever the system, technology or application, the content is ultimately the need. That content should be accurate, up to date, relevant and readily accessible. Within the context of this particular organisation, this particular training support system is able to do that.

Author: Steve Fisher BPE, DipTeach, MEd
Computer Based Training Unit
AirServices Australia
46 Nevin Street Aspley Qld 4034
Tel +617 3263 8582
Email: fisher@dyson.brisnet.org.au

Please cite as: Fisher, S. (1996). Networked multimedia: A learning support system. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 137-139. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ek/fisher.html

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