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Summary: Computer-based Training and Distance Ed (Long)
Subject:Summary: Computer-based Training and Distance Ed (Long) From:"Craig Branham" <branhacc -at- slu -dot- edu> To:"TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com> Date:Sat, 17 Jun 2000 13:30:11 -0500
Many thanks to the twelve people who responded to my note from last Monday
(included at the end of this message) about technical writing for
computer-based training, Web-based training, and distance education. Here
is a summary of what I discovered during the exchange. If anyone has
anything to add or any corrections to suggest, please speak up on the list.
If anyone would like to talk more with me about these topics off list, feel
Education of Correspondents
You'll remember that I'm making a transition into technical communications
from teaching, currently I'm a Ph.D. candidate in English. I was heartened
to learn that while some of the respondents had advanced degrees in Tech
Comm and instructional design and technology, many successful technical
communicators I corresponded with have liberal arts backgrounds and had
made transitions similar to the one I'm trying to make now. Several had
entered technical communications from teaching, and one person is still a
part time adjunct instructor in technical communications at the college
At least one of the correspondents expressed some doubt about how well
formal education in instructional design can prepare someone for what they
will encounter on the job.
Several people wrote to me that they had completed certificates, degree
programs, and other training through distance ed programs to fortify
themselves for work in this field. One correspondent reported learning a
lot while taking a distance ed course through a university, but said that
the lack of live discussion and the onus of carrying out class discussion
electronically made the course more time-consuming than a regular college
course would be.
Companies Where They Work
I would have assumed that most people in this business would be working
with education and training companies, but in most cases correspondents
reported that they work in training or tech comm departments within
software and service companies. Many of the correspondents reported that
they do many other kinds of technical writing along with their CBT
projects. One person reported that CBT positions were hard to find, that it
is generally hard to get a position authoring CBT exclusively. Only one
person I corresponded with went straight from college into CBT.
One correspondent is currently working in the higher education market, as a
consultant to a distance ed program at a small liberal-arts college. He
said that he broke into this field as a MA student in Tech Comm with some
background in instruction, when he offered his services at the local
college after hearing that they were starting a distance ed program.
Nature of the Field and Trends
Several people reported that the Internet and Web are shaking up the CBT
field a great deal, though we didn't get into many specifics about industry
trends that I can report reliably here.
The distance education "industry" in higher education is still inventing
itself. My own perception, based on my own experience, is that distance
education programs at many institutions are being designed simply to
repackage traditional instruction and add a high tech veneer to the course
catalog. This practice may chance once the novelty of Web-based distance ed
finally wears off and the average student-customer becomes more discerning.
Finally, what follows is a list of all the URLs and resources that were
mentioned to me. Thanks very much to everyone who responded to my
>From: "Craig Branham" <branhacc -at- slu -dot- edu>
>Subject: Computer-based Training and Distance Ed
>Date: Mon, Jun 12, 2000, 09:39 AM
> Dear Techwhirlers:
> I'm making a transition into technical writing from teaching, and one of
> the fields that has captured my interest has been designing and writing
> computer-based training and Web-based distance ed.
> I am interested in learning more about these fields from the tech writer's
> perspective. Is there anyone on the list currently working in these fields
> who wouldn't mind corresponding or talking briefly about their work
> off-list? Can anyone recommend books, articles, or Web resources about
> this field?
> Please just drop me a line at the address below, and thanks. I will send a
> summary of what I learn back to the list.
> Craig Branham