Designing Computer-based Learning

practical design principles - from conception to evaluation

"This is not a ‘How to …’ book but rather one seeking to help you understand the different elements which go into computer-based learning." Alan Clarke is offering general principles – and his advice is sound.

Computer-based learningHe kicks off with some observations on interactivity – and how to convert static web pages into a more dynamic experience. This is followed by a discussion of navigation, menus, structural metaphors, and the variety of forms in which questions can be posed. The next chapter deals with types of computer-based learning materials. He lists lots of general principles and learning systems – but a few practical examples would have been welcome at this point.

He discusses assessment methods and how one form of feedback is better than another. The best part of this section is how to construct multiple choice questions. He explains clearly how hypothetical tests can be very useful in situations where there is danger or impracticality – practising nuclear power station shutdowns or deep sea diving rescues, for instance.

His advice on the presentation of text-based learning materials is very good. Use lots of white space; break up text into small chunks; and breathe life into the project with graphics. Anyone following his advice will produce attractive pages. He also throws in some useful tips – such as the observation that people learn more efficiently if they see a structure diagram of a sequence of learning before going through the details.

It’s a pity that his discussions of colour and graphics are illustrated entirely in black and white, with only line diagrams. The publishers could have been more generous to him on this issue.

I was most interested to know what he had to say about hypermedia, since the linking of multiple resources from a variety of media represents possibly the most severe challenge to designers.

He has interesting suggestions on using linked graphics where video is not available – on subjects with a historical dimension for instance. He also makes the point that audio materials ought to be designed for listening, not reading – an easy thing for many writers to forget.

His overall message is that users should have access to as wide a variety of input as possible, and that they should be able to control their own choices.

He is also good on the basic design principles for web pages and screen layout – reminding us that for online learning materials, only a small proportion of the screen should be used – as distinct from a commercial web site – otherwise the user can easily becomes confused.

This book covers the whole of the design process – from conception to testing and evaluation. There are plenty of suggestions for scripts, templates, and storyboards, as well as tips for estimating the cost-effectiveness of what you produce. As a manual, it provides comprehensive guidance for any serious designer – or any department which is under orders to produce online learning materials.

© Roy Johnson 2002


Alan Clarke, Designing Computer-Based Learning Materials, London: Gower, 2001, pp.196, ISBN 0566083205


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