What makes good courseware?

Some initials thoughts discussing what I look for in courseware.

Motivated to write this because the quality of available courseware is uneven and it has come up a few times recently in discussion with colleagues. I am writing this from the trainers perspective. To my colleagues who write courseware, I’ll apologise in advance if I don’t use the right terminology.

 All comments and feedback are, of course,  welcome.

Smorgasbord vs Work-flow Structure

For office applications, the smorgasbord structure can be fine. In this approach the manual covers a list of features appropriate to the level.

For more complex software, I find courseware that follows the process of using the software to do a task is better. This is a major weakness of much of the Dreamweaver and Acrobat courseware I have encountered. The successful use of this approach is why I use and recommend of the Captivate work books by IconLogic.

Appendixes/Extra Topics 

My experience is that trainees are coming to courses more skilled and more experienced than applied when the topics that fall into intermediate and advanced levels for MS Office applications were first set. Therefore courseware should have additional topics as appendixes with some supporting exercises. I usually have have extra topics in reserve  for clued up  groups, but it would be better if the workbook had material on these topics for trainees to take away.

Exercises and Exercise Files

The processes illustrated in the exercises should reflect current best practice (for example, using CSS for formatting and layout rather than tables in a Dreamweaver workbook).

The sequence of topics covered should build so as to illustrate best practice, and should reflect topics already covered. It is frustrating to find in an Excel workbook an exercise on nesting functions using the vlookup function or range names where these are not covered until later in the workbook.

Workbooks should use simple exercises that can then get more complex as the chapter progresses to allow for concepts (eg CSS box model) to be grasped and then built on.

At the end of each chapter, one of two exercises, for the trainees to work through at their own pace with the trainer observing and assisting as required rather than leading. This has a value for the trainees to build their confidence and for the trainer to reveal issues that need clarifying or covering again.

Exercise files should come with staged versions – to match where you are up to. This is useful for customised tutorials and small group sessions where you need to start at chapter 4 or need to start part way through a chapter to illustrate a task or answer a question and need a version of the exercise file with previous tasks already done.

Books vs Courseware

Occasionally find myself using a book rather than purpose written courseware, usually for custom 1-on-1 or small group training. A few books can serve effectively as courseware, for example the Adobe Classroom in a book series, but most don’t work well in this role as either the structure doesn’t suit a course or they don’t have exercise files. The Adobe Classroom in a book series tend to be dearer than regular courseware, but can be  good value overall.

What Else?

  • Lots of Screen Captures, Diagrams and illustrations
  • Tips and Tricks
  • An Index (very handy for finding the right section relating to a Question you have just been asked)
  • Lots of white space
  • Good margins for people to make notes in.
  • Easy to ready fonts
  • Exercise files on a disk at the back of the book (laziness on my part – means I don’t need to organise some other method of distribution post course)

All comments and feedback are, of course,  welcome.


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