Author:Shank, Patti
Position:Product/service evaluation

Raptivity, CD-ROM, 2006, Harbinger Knowledge Products, $1995.

Support: user materials one year tech support.

For many years, I've been urging instructional designers (and others developing instruction) who build online and blended instructional materials to have, at a minimum, basic authoring and programming skills.


My rationale has been that these skills are critical for understanding what the tools and code are doing. These skills help designers understand what can and cannot be done and often translate into better storyboards and less iteration because people who possess them are able to understand what developers need to know (descriptions of how a rollover should behave, for example).

And here's another reason. Perhaps you are easily able to get your developers to make small changes quickly, but I find that changes often take longer than desired. If I have basic authoring and programming skills, I can often make these changes myself far faster than it takes to document them for developers and then wait for them to be completed (and reviewed by the team).

And here's another reason. Developers may occasionally try to snow you or blow you off. (Yeah, yeah, I know this has never happened to you ...) These skills help you head this off and make it less likely it will happen again. I'm in favor of making life less stressful so this makes lots of sense to me.

Stopping trouble in its tracks

Here's a real-life example of what I am talking about. My instructional design team was in the midst of developing online applications instruction for a client and wanted certain pages to be formatted in a very specific way for printing.

We developed print standards but the developer told us that what we wanted couldn't be accomplished. They suggested adding notes to learners about how to print the page in landscape rather than portrait mode.

Nuh-uh, bad idea. We showed the developers references on how to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to accomplish what we asked for and voila, it was done. Better instruction, less stress.

Maybe you're thinking I'm a crackerjack multimedia developer and web programmer so of course this is easy for me. Not so. I can author decently in some of the most commonly used authoring tools, but I'm not an expert compared to folks who do authoring and programming every day. Here's what I am proficient at: knowing what different tools can and cannot do, when to use one tool rather than another, and how to tweak pages and underlying code when not-too-big changes are needed.

I still think those of us who build online and blended instruction benefit from these skills, but I'm far less emphatic about being able to read and tweak code than I used to be. In the last few years, a number of authoring tools have become far more feature rich and easier to use (see my review of Lectora Publisher, for example), and it's quite often simple to make changes without having to dive into the code.

I am truly glad this has happened...

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