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Policies for the introduction of educational multimedia systems

D. J. Hobbs and D. J. Moore
Leeds Metropolitan University, UK
This paper argues that a strong strategic base is essential for successful development and implementation of multimedia teaching and training systems, and that successful integration of multimedia within an organisation is not guaranteed unless careful planning has taken place beforehand. Evaluative studies of the implementation of computer based training systems in two large UK financial institutions were undertaken and enabled a hybrid set of strategic guidelines for incorporating multimedia as a training tool to be derived, The use of Word Wide Web pages for training and assessment is discussed and the implications of this style of multimedia delivery mode are discussed.

Why multimedia?

Multimedia technologies offer many apparent advantages, especially from the point of view of education and training. They can be expected to inherit the advantages of conventional computer based learning (cf Mushrush, 1990), and offer open and student centred learning opportunities. Thus learners are able to progress at their own pace, independent of time, place and teacher, and free of concerns about peer group pressure. Testing and monitoring of learners can be incorporated into the system, and the computer can offer the learner direct and immediate feedback, as well as appropriately tailored remedial work. Further, since training may be effected at the place of work rather than at a distant study centre, there may be cost benefits (cf Hawkbridge 1995).

By employing a range of different media within computer learning environment, further advantages may accrue. As Blattner and Dannenberg (1992) point out, the senses that humans use to interact with the world 'enhance each other in various ways, adding synergies or further informational dimensions'. By exploiting the senses, multimedia applications can potentially play a large role in enhancing and enriching learning. Multimedia documents, for example, can give clearer demonstrations via video and/or animation than their text only equivalents (Zellweger, 1992). In combination with international computer networks such as the World Wide Web (WWW), such innovations can potentially 'empower teachers and students in remarkable ways' (Shneiderman, 1992b).

Further, by combining such facilities with a hypermedia facility, the system can take advantage of the analogy between the free movement between nodes and the associative process of creative thinking (Beeman et al , 1987). Learners are able to generate their own information seeking strategies (Marchionini and Shneiderman, 1987), linking large bodies of knowledge to create representations that suit their particular needs, and browsing through learning material following and linking particular idea routes (Steadman 1994).

Much potential seems therefore to exist for multimedia applications within training. Further, training is itself a crucially important facet of modem working life (cf. Mason 1995, Shneiderman 1992b). Parker (1995), for example, argues that pace of change is both 'a threat and an opportunity' and, in a case study of the information systems division of a major British manufacturing company, found that staff were 'reskilled' every four years. Thus technology is both causing the need for training, and, via multimedia, helping to provide means of providing such training. It is therefore vital that modern organisations consider how multimedia can help in their specific training needs.

As a result, perhaps, of arguments such as this, there has been much recent interest in the use of multimedia in training and education. For example, the private British company CRT Group PLC is donating multimedia computers to schools, to aid the development of the so called 'learning superhighway', in return for use of the rooms out of school hours as commercial training centres (Klein 1995) and multimedia is already used in commercial training, for example in banks and building societies (Parker 1995), and in multimedia databases (Shneiderman 1992a) and marketing (eg. Machover 1993).

Why a strategy for multimedia?

The case for organisational interest in multimedia is therefore very strong. It is the contention of this paper, however, that a strategic approach must he taken to the introduction and utilisation of multimedia technologies if the benefits are to be realised in practice. Multimedia is not a sinecure for all problems - there are obstacles on the yellow brick road (Dickens and Sherwood-Edwards, 1993), which must be overcome to maximise the potential. It will not happen by right.

One such obstacle is the technology itself - there are limits to the technology's capabilities in a training role, in particular in regard to individualised feedback and discussion. In a study of a hypermedia package within a university, for example, Steadman (1994) found that learners keenly felt a lack of feedback from the machine compared with normal classroom feedback; one learner, for example, suggested teachers can explain things in a variety of ways to aid understanding whereas computers can't. Similarly, in studying training applications in a commercial setting, Parker (1995) found that many learners felt that there could be no substitute for human interaction.

Current work is addressing the issue of incorporating discussion into multimedia tools (eg. Moore and Hobbs 1994) but this is a non-trivial issue, and it is difficult to disagree with Steadman's (1994) conclusions that, currently at least, technology is not a complete substitute for teachers, and technology based teaching has an effective role to play only in particular circumstances and with regard to particular aspects of teaching. It may be therefore that there is a need for group use of training media, with the technology dovetailing into and thus enhancing, rather than replacing, conventional training. Indeed, there is evidence of its commercial use in such modes (Parker 1995). In brief, a strategic decision is needed vis a vis the interaction between multimedia technologies and conventional training approaches.

It is, moreover, important to realise that, partly because the area is a new and emerging one, many technical difficulties may need to be overcome if multimedia based training is to be successful. As Blattner and Dannenberg (1992) point out, the use of multimedia systems tends to be poorly understood: 'multimedia extensions to current systems have grown like weeds without well defined or well understood principles... We know we can add sound to existing systems, but how should sound be used? How does sound integrate with graphics? Do we really need sound for the particular application, or is it just adding meaningless bells and whistles?'. A strategic approach is therefore needed to avoid the adoption of multimedia for its own sake. This concern is the more pressing since evidence concerning the effectiveness of Computer Based Learning (CBL) in general, and multimedia in particular, is hard to come by (Steadman 1994).

The opposite danger to the inappropriate adoption of the technology for its own sake also exists, namely the danger of 'technological oversights' (Long and Long 1993). The field is developing rapidly and, as Vince (1993) has pointed out, the human longing to invent more and more esoteric technologies shows no limits. Even today, processors are under development that render obsolete virtually everything we are currently using. Some organisational strategy is therefore needed to maintain awareness of, and to cater for and appropriate advantage of, the speed of development.

Other technical concerns are presence of a of different methodologies for multimedia development (Mulrooney 1995), and the presence many authoring tools (see, eg, Bunzel and Morris 1994), suggesting the need for a strategic choice of development environment.

Alongside these technical concerns, are what might be called 'softer' or more socially oriented concerns in connection with the implementation and deployment of multimedia systems. At the level of the individual learner, it is important that would be trainees are aware of the possibilities multimedia training has to offer them and are assured that there will be opportunities to use the skills in existing and future roles (Parker 1995). Peppard (1990) has argued that open learning is a new environment distinct from traditional 'classroom' techniques, and so requires strategic communication of the reasons for its use and of its benefits. Further, personnel may be wary of training using a machine and may require motivation and advice on how to exploit the benefits. Strategic planning is also likely to be needed on the part of the trainers. In his study of hypermedia in a university, Steadman (1994) found that lecturers needed time to become familiar with the computer based materials and to think through the implications of using them, and that their use required as much preparation and thought as any other teaching technique. He also found that there were differences between student expectations of the system and what it in practice provided them with, and argues that designers of such systems should be aware of and cater for the concomitant danger of 'cognitive dissonance'.

At the level of the organisation strategic decisions may need to be taken concerning the cost of the necessary hardware and software for multimedia training, and how it is to fit in with extant configurations (for example extant hardware may be capable of being upgraded to become full specification multimedia machines). For an organisation producing multimedia training materials in house there may be copyright issues concerning the rights to existing materials to be used in the package (Dickens and Sherwood-Edwards, 1993); for an organisation wishing to enter the multimedia industry as such, Dickens and Sherwood-Edwards argue for a need to think strategically in order to deal with the differing 'fears and aspirations' of the various 'players in the multimedia industry', such as rights owners, hardware manufacturers, and producers of materials.

More generally, two further considerations need to be taken into account at the level of the organisation. First, it can be argued that there are three levels of organisational management - strategic planning. management control and tactical planning, and operational planning and control (Hawryszkiewycz 1994). As with any information system, a strategic approach to multimedia should be taken in order to sock to deploy its benefits at each of these levels of management. Second, again as with all information systems, there are likely to be 'political' ramifications of system implementation (Finnegan et al 1988): the system does not enter a value neutral void. A strategic approach is therefore needed to manage the complexities of the system's introduction.

Towards a multimedia strategy

In order firstly to examine the contention presented above that successful implementation of multimedia training requires careful planning within the context of an overall strategy, Parker (1995) undertook evaluative studies of the implementation of computer based training systems in two large UK financial institutions. One of these delivered multimedia training based on the Phillips CDI technology; the other was a more conventional computer based training package involving text and graphics. From these studies, Parker was able to formulate strategic guidelines for incorporating multimedia as a training tool. She constructed a hybrid set of strategic guidelines (Table 1) derived predominantly from the Central Communications and Telecommunications Agency's (1986) suggested guidelines for strategic planning of information technology, but including others advocated by Robson (1994) and Silk (1991).

Table 1: Strategic planning guidelines

StageStage titleActions
Stage 1PreparationDiscuss with the organisation the study objectives.
Stage 2Where are we now?Complete a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to determine the current business situation. Discuss with the organisation the structure of the management hierarchy, their needs and the levels that may be affected by the proposed system.
Stage 3Where do we want to be?Discuss with the organisation the mission and the goals that they wish to pursue.
Stage 4How do we get there?Define functional strategies that will contribute to the corporate level strategy (mission). Establish what choices the organisation has and devise a set of options. Use a strategic planning tool to aid the decision making process.
Stage 5Define the actions.Establish whether the organisation should proceed with options devised in Stage 4, and choose which option to pursue. This may need further discussion with the organisation.
Stage 6Establish the strategy/ implementation planEvaluate any other factors that may influence the plan - these will come out from the discussions with the organisation. Plan the implementation, taking account of time scales and available resources.

A favourable appraisal from an independent expert helped provide validation of this set of guidelines. Part of the application of the guidelines involved an analysis which concentrated on the functional level strategy of training in relation to the overall mission, and which used Silk's (1991) Benefit Level Matrix. This yielded suggestions that it would be cost effective for the company to consider the adoption of multimedia training and that further benefits would accrue from the development of in house CD-ROM and CDI training software. Certainly a reduction in cost had already been realised for the established user since the 'Motivating the Team' CDI training package cost £1175 to buy and set up for an unlimited number of trainees compared to £1425 per group of six employees for an existing training course run by an external training company (Parker 1995).

Multimedia learning and the Internet

An alternative to developing or installing teaching materials within a company is to employ suitable packages from specialist providers through distance learning. The paper will now therefore consider this aspect of alternative delivery modes. A study of the use of WWW pages for training and assessment was undertaken by Taylor (1995), part of which involved the collaborative development of web pages between sites in Queensland and Leeds using various Internet functions as a means to provide the required communication. The WWW has developed rapidly in business, research and academia, and many users now consider it to be the first real step in the creation of an 'Information Superhighway.' Scattered throughout the Internet are examples of educators, students and researchers experimenting with WWW as a way to teach and to empower students. However, as a whole, online classrooms are still few and far between and the WWW has so far been largely ignored as an educational tool.

The incorporation of newer Internet technologies into the WWW may help change this. For instance, IRCs (Internet Relay Chats -real time group discussions) and MUDs (Multiple User Dungeons - essentially IRCs in interesting settings) could provide users and designers with synchronous communication. Another example is CUSeeMe [1] sites which enable users to see and hear each other by way of a video camera. Programmers are now experimenting with software that will allow easy access to these live discussions in a WWW environment, and when combined with the WWW's audio visual capabilities, the possibilities for online education and enhancement are very exciting.

The WWW as teaching tool

The simplest use of the Web as an educational tool concerns its ability to present information clearly and attractively. HTML (HyperText Markup Language) standards dictate how a WWW site is to be interpreted by a browser, so when a text document is translated into a WWW document, its appearance as an HTML document is predictable in advance. Additionally, the benefits of hypertext mentioned earlier become available. From a curricular point of view, the WWW can be used to design tutorials and online lessons for a variety of subjects. For example (Blumberg 1994) describes an online teaching tool for basic genetics known as MendelWeb. Discussion and questions are presented as they would be in a live introduction to biology course, yet because the course work is built into the WWW, students may choose for themselves the presentation order for the subject's learning material components, and thus progress their comprehension of it at their own rate.

One established example of using the WWW as a teaching device is 'Engines for Education' [2], a 'textbook of the future' written by Schank and Cleary (1994). This is an excellent example of educational WWW design because the authors of the hyperbook have carefully mapped out the possible learning interactions arising from each piece of information offered in the text. For each statement in the hyperbook, Schank and Cleary attempted to come up with as many questions as possible that might be raised from such a statement. Each answer to these questions leads to more questions, some of which may connect directly with other subtopics within the book. Thus, a successful WWW book such as Engines must be crafted with sometimes thousands of links and hundreds of pages.

With the proliferation of automatic HTML authoring programs, creating such linkages will become a less daunting a task than this example might suggest. To make hyperbook design even simpler, programmers at Brown University have created what are known as 'ASK' systems (Schank and Cleary 1994). These systems are a form of hypermedia based on the metaphor of having a conversation with an expert (or a group of experts). In this conversation, the user provides questions and the ASK system provides the answers. In a real conversation, both participants influence the flow of discussion. In an ASK system, the same holds true. The user influences the flow by selecting which questions to pursue and the ASK system influences the flow through the answers it provides.

The WWW as an information search tool

In view of the thousands of WWW sites, knowing where to begin, what to look for, and what to ignore can be a daunting task, particularly in an educational setting. Fortunately, with the development of 'webworms', 'spiders', and 'knowbots' - computerised search agents which will scan the Internet looking for requested information - it is now possible for a user to connect to a search engine and type in a search term of interest. Help also comes from other WWW users who have begun to catalogue the enormous variety of resources available online. As these individuals compile this information, they relay it back to the educational community in the form of online resource guides. Some guides are simply a hypertext list of all known educational resources.

A more recent trend in resource cataloguing is the development of annotated resource guides, where educational sites are categorised (for example via the site's geographic location, primary school versus secondary, or geography versus mathematics, etc) and then processed into HTML with a description of the site. Searches can then be more accurately targeted to the user's needs and return more relevant references. In a sense, as the designers of WWW sites develop more online resource guides, the WWW will begin to take on the form of a World Wide Library Catalogue. However, unlike a traditional library, the books will have been created by students, lecturers and anyone else with a contribution to make, and are available online. Of course, this means that they are generally unrefereed and their credibility must be treated cautiously compared to material from academic sites which operate a more traditional approach in which articles accepted for publication have undergone thorough vetting by the peer community.

Even in its most basic form the WWW offers excellent facilities for researchers to share innovative designs and ideas with the global community and its use as a research tool has increased enormously. A key area of interest in research is the development of collaborations between individuals and groups around the world investigating similar areas. The WWW offers new and exiting opportunities for the discovery of these kinds of contacts.

The WWW in collaborative and distance education

The value of the Internet as a forum for discussion and as a marketplace for ideas and information has long been recognised. WWW also offers this but with greater accessibility, and it can provide the educational community with an important basis for virtual debate and discovery. All of the original uses of the Internet, file transfer protocol, email, USENET news and gopher, continue to thrive in the context of the WWW, and indeed are converging into a single informational tool in that the latest generation of WWW browsers, such as Netscape, are capable of interacting with the full suite of Internet protocols.

Thus, it is conceivable for a designer to utilise all of these services to create a hypermedia discussion on any given subject. Indeed, some organisations have even used listservs to run virtual conferences, where literally thousands of people sign up to an online discussion and take part in a week long forum, without leaving their home or office. Some are now tying Web sites into an online forum. Additionally, there are public domain software packages which convert email text to HTML and automatically add the text to a Web site (MailToHTML, Hypermail, etc). Thus as a WWW designer adds new sections to their site and users begin to discuss these changes, there is the facility for the entire conversation to be automatically integrated into the site itself.

This combination of hypermedia presentation (the WWW) and critique (listserv email) can be used in a variety of ways. For instance, a teacher may organise a WWW site which includes lectures, frequently asked questions, and multimedia presentations. With the inclusion of a listserv, students may automatically add information to that site such as additional questions, reports, and essays. This arrangement efficiently stores important subject information and organises it to allow easy access. The students would not even need to become experts in HTML since the mail-to-HTML converters could automatically create them. Students can use the various Internet technologies to create their own hypertext work, such as a WWW based project, and then present it online so that their peers and lecturers may discuss and critique it. Developments in HTML have introduced the ability of the WWW to display fill out forms and this together with the help of some background programming on the server side, can produce interactive educational pages. This has enabled educational sites to incorporate tests and quizzes for both formal assessment and self assessment. This technology (questions and answers) also can be used to produce interactive learning material in the traditional computer aided learning vein.

One of the most exciting recent developments for collaborative education are WWW interfaces to MUDs (mentioned earlier) and MOOs [3] (Multi-user, Object Oriented text based virtual realities). The latter allow individual users to interact with each other and to extend the environment and 'build' or create new objects within it. In an educational context, this can allow the student to become an active participant in the learning experience. In addition, it has been found that MOOs provide a strong sense of 'place', bringing back some of the advantages of 'campus' life that is lost in distance education. An example use of MOO based system in education is provided by Meyer, Blair and Hader (1995). Theirs is a networked collaborative hypermedia system intended to support groups of scholars in composing and publishing hypertext fiction and criticism. The current system supports the importing of individually developed hypertext documents into a MUD based collaborative workspace for integration and expansion, and allows for the immediate publication of these dynamically generated multimedia documents onto the World Wide Web.

The most obvious role for the WWW using all of the above scenarios is in Distance Education (Ibrahim 1994). Thus, the UK's main distance educator, The Open University (OU) [4] is increasing its use of the WWW with its students. Taylor's (1995) project was itself an exercise in distance education, as the research and practical work were completed in Australia while the supervisor was based in the UK. All supervision of the project was performed over the Internet, with the majority of the communication using email. 'Interactive' progress meetings were conducted using the simple text based TALK program accomplished by connecting to Leeds Metropolitan University's 'Jaffie' Internet server at a mutually convenient time, prearranged by email. Real time meetings were also conducted using Internet Relay Chat (IRC). The practical components of the project, the draft and final project reports were also delivered using the WWW as a vehicle by emailing the URL address of the relevant work using a portable document format. Without these facilities, supervision of the project would not have been practicable in the available timescale.


Multimedia systems generally, and multimedia training systems in particular, are currently experiencing enormous growth of interest and uptake. This paper has argued that, as with conventional computer based training in the past, lack of successful delivery of multimedia training may well result if the issues surrounding their adoption do not integrate within an overall strategic framework. A set of strategic guidelines has therefore been proposed as a first step towards assessing the appropriateness of such training and providing a vehicle for considered implementation.

Such multimedia teaching materials may be obtained from a number of sources, and Taylor's (1995) project was valuable in demonstrating the large quantity of educational material already available on WWW. The pilot use of the WWW and the Internet for supervision offers some further valuable insights into the problems that may be encountered and the benefits which can accrue in the use and development of WWW based education.

In terms of strategy, Taylor's project highlighted some areas that require addressing if the WWW's potential in education is to be realised. Above all, institutional access to the Internet and the WWW in particular must increase dramatically. Governments must introduce schemes such as the UK Labour Party's promises to have a World Wide Web Link in every school. Of course it is not simply a case of making the technology available to schools - the support for the equipment, and the staff using it, must be of a standard that will allow its full use. Universities must similarly realise the potential of the technology and invest in the infrastructure to offer WWW facilities to every faculty, not just Information Technology Schools, again with the required support. In this way the WWW could have a major impact on undergraduate and graduate education.

Further development of the cable and telephone infrastructure, and the lowering or elimination of local call charges will increase the practicality of access still further, and as more people contribute to the WWW the more useful it will become. Most importantly, if the World Wide Web is to have the significant impact on education that it should, the combined forces of educators and experienced WWW computing personnel will need to be harnessed as they work together to develop and utilise the technology to its full and best advantage.


  1. ftp://gated.comell.edu/pub/video/
  2. http://www.ils.nwu.edu/~e_for_e/ [verified 15 Jan 2004 at http://engines4ed.org/
  3. ftp://media.mit.edu/pub/MediaMOO/
  4. http://www.open.ac.uk/
  5. http://www.poptel.org.uk/Labour-Party/execsumm.html


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Please cite as: Hobbs, D. J. and Moore, D. J. (1996). Policies for the introduction of educational multimedia systems. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 177-183. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ek/hobbs.html

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