• Off-the-shelf vs. custom content.
If you’re looking for a quick fix to a relatively generic problem, then purchasing an off-the-shelf product is a great way to get training where it is needed fast. There are lots of good communication, customer service, sales, safety, etc. CBT programs available from a wide range of reputable suppliers. There are a number of vendors who specialize in more industry-specific training programs, such as rail infrastructure or diesel equipment to name a couple of examples. Some of the larger equipment manufacturers also offer CBT modules as part of their training packages. But, if you’re looking for information that reflects your specific operational environment and equipment, then custom content development is probably the way to go.
• Look for a custom content developer, not a subject matter expert.
There are three elements involved in producing a successful CBT module:
- Content — the required information from several sources, including a subject matter expert.
- Instructional Design — organizing and presenting the content in a way enabling absorbtion, retention and ultimately demonstrative mastery of the required information.
- Computer Interface — the box that holds the content, as well as the plumbing that enables the user to move through the program.
Generally speaking, a good custom content developer has two of these three elements. They have the technical skills and equipment required to build a good box for your content. They also have the instructional design background necessary to transform your base content into a successful learning tool. As the course originator, you have to supply the third element, which is the actual subject material. You know what your organization wants and how it operates. Obviously, as the person paying the bills, you also have a say about how the other two development elements are going to be executed.
If you find a supplier who claims to be an expert in all three of these areas, be sure to review their credentials and ask for references, and insist upon seeing samples of their work. Solid instructional design skills are often the missing element in an external subject matter expert’s development equation. In other words, they may know what needs to be said, but they don’t know how to say it. Unless the principles of sound instructional design are incorporated into the CBT development process, the resulting module will probably contain factual information, it may even look good, but it will likely be useless as a learning tool.
Managing the Development Process
Regardless of whether you’re working with a vendor or producing the CBT yourself, you have to manage the development process. Now, some of the following roles may be collapsed in smaller organizations, but typically CBT production involves: trainers, subject matter experts, instructional designers and/or outside vendors, client departments and IT departments.
In other words, someone to build the module; someone who knows what should go into the module; someone who wants, or who will benefit from the module; and, someone who enables the module to be accessed within the organization. As a result it takes a lot of communication and collaboration to be successful. Here are some things I’ve learned that help eliminate surprises during the development process:
• Consider some upfront questions affecting module construction.
Before you begin to actually develop your CBT there are some important upfront questions you need to consider that will have a significant impact on how you design the module. Questions like:
What are the course objectives?
Who are the end users?
Will the program be used for initial training, refresher training or both?
Is the CBT module a stand-alone program, or is it part of a larger course?
Is there a course pass/fail requirement?
Is there a need for formalized testing?
Is there a practical or hands-on component?
Do you need to track and record trainee progress and performance?
The answers to all these questions and possibly many more should go into some kind of a design document for the module. Trust me; you’ll avoid a lot of headaches, revisions and expenses later on if you go into the development process with a plan.
• Ensure your infrastructure will support access to the CBT.
In a perfect world you already have a learning management system (LMS) to house, launch and track your CBT modules. There is sufficient access to computers in your classrooms and/or the client department’s facilities. And, all your end users have the appropriate access to your computer network. If your reality is something different, then you need to sort out how you’re going to deliver your modules to your audience. Here are some possible suggestions if you don’t have a lot of IT infrastructure: