Khan & Ealy, 2000

A Framework for a Comprehensive Web-Based Authoring System

Badrul H. Khan

David A. Ealy


As the Internet is rapidly emerging, the World Wide Web, commonly known as the Web, has become an increasingly prolific and dynamic medium for sharing information (Khan,

1997). The recent emergence of the Web as a new learning medium (delivery system) is definitely a blessing for education and training fields. The Web provides an open, dynamic and flexible learning environment with implications for countless applications with respect to education and training. Numerous names are used to describe Web-Based

Learning (WBL) activities, including Web-Based Training (WBT), Web-Based

Instruction (WBI), Internet-Based Training (IBT), Online Training (OT), Advanced

Distributed Learning (ADL), Online Learning (OL), and Distributed Learning (DL) to name a few; for our purposes, however, we will use WBT.

The design, development and implementation of WBT for a distributed, open and flexible environment would greatly benefit from an authoring system, which allows designers to create meaningful educational/training materials. This chapter discusses important aspects of authoring environments for open and distributed system. In creating WBT, we should explore the similarities and differences between open and closed systems. An understanding of open systems and its systemic relationship with various components of the learning environment would play a very critical role in WBT design and development.

Open vs. Closed Authoring Tools

Most of the larger and more established authoring tools that currently exist, such as

Asymetrix ToolBook and Authorware, were developed with a closed system in mind. In addition, this older generation of authoring tools were designed to accommodate the assumption that the learning resulting from the CBT would take place in a state of solitary confinement. These tools were instrumental in helping a designer to create

Computer-based Instruction (CBI), Computer-assisted Instruction (CAI), or Computerbased Training (CBT), for example, which almost always called for some degree of interaction between the learner and content to meet the instructional goals (Phillips,

1998). WBT challenges us to break the solitary confinement of closed systems (CBT) by designing for an open, flexible and distributed learning environment. To point, Phillips

(1998) contends that the Web provides opportunities for learners to experience instruction on three levels:

Between the learner and content,

Between the learner and instructor and

Among other learners.


Khan & Ealy, 2000

“One of the challenges for instructional designers charged with the task of suggesting the best use of an instructional medium such as the World Wide Web is the inevitable and incessant rate of change of information technologies” (Welsh, 1997). The Web as a learning medium has tremendous potential for delivering instructional materials, but becomes problematic for designers and developers when using authoring software that may not be able to accommodate new functionality of emerging information technologies.

Web-Based Authoring for Open Systems

The demand within the past five years has sharply increased for WBT (virtual universities, corporate intranets and extranets). According to McGee (1999),

"Technology-based training, including Web-based solutions, will represent half of all training by the year 2002, up from 25% [in 1998]." For example, The White House

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Department of Defense (DOD) launched the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative to ensure ready public access to high-quality education and training materials on the Web that can be tailored to individual learner needs. This ADL initiative and most of the literature surrounding WBT address several common goals. At present, there is not a single authoring tool that adequately addresses all issues concerning Web-based learning environments.

Because the Web is a new medium and many of us in the field of education and training are used to developing learning materials for closed systems (e.g., CAI, CBT, etc.), developing learning materials for open systems (e.g., WBI, WBT, etc.) can pose a new set of challenges, for which solutions are still in the formative stage. “While having an open system has its appeal, it can make designing for it extremely difficult, because in an open system, the designer agrees to give up a certain amount of control to the user”

(Jones & Farquhar, 1997). Instructional designers now face difficult choices regarding tool selection, with particular concern as to whether a given tool will be stable enough in the future not to require adjustments and re-programming to their products in the future.

Even more importantly, many designers are wondering how they will be able to implement with success a newer instructional paradigm (indirect instruction) in a medium that is not yet fully comparable (in terms of productivity) with the high interactive functionality of the old paradigm (direct instruction) (Gibbons, Lawless, Anderson &

Duffin, 2000).

In designing WBT, we must focus on issues important to learners and how to use the

Web’s potential in concert with instructional design principles (Ritchie & Hoffman, cited in Khan, 1997a). Khan has been researching the question, “What does it take to provide the best and most meaningful flexible learning environments for learners worldwide?” He learned that there are numerous factors that help to create a meaningful learning environment (see chapter 8), many of which are systemically interrelated and interdependent. A systemic understanding of these factors can help designers create meaningful distributed learning environments. In addressing these systemically interrelated issues for WBT we should seek support from the following knowledge bases

(but not limited to following): Instructional design, cognitive and educational psychology, curriculum development, distance education, innovation and change,


Khan & Ealy, 2000 telecommunication, database, artificial intelligence, software engineering, and media production.

Status of Web-based Authoring Tools

To date, many of the existing Web-based authoring tools do not seem to address many of the aforementioned critical factors surrounding WBT. Some authoring packages for closed systems are trying to expand their capabilities for the Web by allowing designers to simply “upload” current CBT to the Web, for example. However, as we already learned years ago in translating print-based materials to CBT, it is again important to note that authoring tools not initially developed to accommodate an open and flexible system may not be able to address the scope and needs involved in designing purely Web-based instructional and training materials.

Currently, existing Web-based authoring tools do not support the pedagogical and other critical issues that arise when instructional materials are transported to the Web. At a recent

PC Week Magazine PC Week Shoot-Out

held at the Institute for Defense Analyses in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense, PC Week Labs and Shoot-Out judges from the corporate, higher education, and government sectors evaluated systems designed to manage the distributed learning process. Several judges emphasized concern surrounding pedagogical implications and other issues relating to open and flexible learning systems. Specific reactions include the following observations:


Across all industries and academia there is a tremendous concern for standards and for finding just the right instructional methodologies and metaphors" (Plagis-Tsitsikaos, 1999, p.134). In addition to pedagogical issues, Khan (1999b) noted, “Major challenges in designing distributed courseware are management, user interface, resource support and cultural issues" (p. 134). “Area of specialty is understanding how people learn. Need for morre dynamic, flexible, adaptive systems” (Sonwalker, 1999, pp. 134).

Dabbagh, Bannan-Ritland and Silc (2000) used the WBL Framework to review courses developed by several of the more popular Web-based authoring tools. They found that the

WBL Framework (see chapter 39) provides a competent guiding mechanism for the development of the Web-based courses. According to Dabbagh, Bannan-Ritland and Silc


In order for WBI to be effective, it must be pedagogically driven, dynamically designed, interaction oriented, and content specific. Focus should be placed on designing a pedagogical approach appropriate for the content, inclusion of organization and interaction strategies that enhance the student’s processing of the information, and integration of the medium’s attributes to support the designated goals and objectives of the course. Developers of Web-based training and educational materials need to place emphasis on these tasks and view the technology in relation to its capacity to deliver the planned design.

There is a tremendous need to develop an authoring “system” which will address all

WBT-related issues discussed above. After reflecting on the various factors critical to


Khan & Ealy, 2000 open and flexible learning environments, Khan (1997b) developed a Framework for

Web-based learning (see Figure 1). Various WBT factors are clustered into the following eight dimensions:



Interface Design



Resource Support



Each dimension has several sub-dimensions (see column 1 Figure 3) consisting of items that address a specific aspect of a Web-based learning environment. To find more detailed information about the WBL framework please read chapter 8. Khan (1998) strongly believes that the WBL framework should provide the architecture for a comprehensive authoring system for an open and flexible learning environment. As previously noted, Dabbagh, Bannan-Ritland and Silc (2000) found that the WBL framework provides a competent guiding mechanism for the development of the Webbased courses. In addition, after reviewing the framework, Reeves (personal communication, 2000) indicated that it provides a useful approach to clarifying the complexities of Web-based learning environment.

Figure 1: The WBL Framework


The suitability of the WBL framework is so comprehensive that it was significantly instrumental in developing AuthorWeb, a Web-based authoring system for designing open learning environments (Khan, 1999a). At present, no other tool is available to adequately address the issues concerning all eight dimensions of the Web-based learning environments. In 1997,

Khan developed the conceptual model for AuthorWeb and presented it at the 1999 Association for Educational and Communications Technology


Khan & Ealy, 2000

(AECT) convention. The response toward the development of AuthorWeb was overwhelmingly positive. The inception of AuthorWeb’s development began with a vision of providing a tool that would assist educators, trainers and course developers to create meaningful online courses without prior skills or knowledge in instructional design, computer programming and issues critical to distance learning environments.

AuthorWeb’s development process benefits from the input of various substantiated perspectives, including instructional design, cognitive and educational psychology, curriculum development, distance education, innovation and change, telecommunication, database, artificial intelligence, software engineering, and media production.

As we discussed earlier, AuthorWeb’s framework is rooted in the WBL framework

(Khan, 2000). Each dimension of the framework has several sub-dimensions (see Figure

2), each consisting of items focused on specific aspects of the WBT learning environment. These items are represented as simple queries in the AuthorWeb system.

AuthorWeb can be used in two ways, (1) By providing the designer with the flexibility to create a course using its various features and tools like any other comprehensive authoring software, (2) By providing the designer with five easy-to-follow stages of development for course creation (see Figure 2).


Course vision


Design journey with the eight dimensions of the WBL framework. Selection of items and submission of relevant AuthorWeb features leads to the Development stage.


AuthorWeb features relevant to the selected items are added to the course storyboard.

Course preview


Usability testing

The course is created


Diffusion and adoption of WBT

Figure 2: Course Creation Process by AuthorWeb


Khan & Ealy, 2000

As previously stated, creating effective WBT can be an overwhelming process, and the

WBL framework with its eight dimensions addresses the comprehensive nature of the

WBT learning environment. The five-stage course creation process outlined by

AuthorWeb adequately involves the designer in creating comprehensive WBT. At each stage, the WBL framework helps the designer to identify and clarify the critical issues and complexities in the WBT environment, and provides guidance on addressing these issues appropriately. The following section outlines the course creation process.

Stage I. Initiation

In its opening screen, AuthorWeb provides the designer the opportunity to express the vision of the overall instruction. This vision will eventually be translated into a course.

At this level, the designer can include any information they feel is necessary to convey into their vision of the course. AuthorWeb will provide guidance in this process through a series of basic questions aimed at refining the designer’s vision to a more concrete and discrete level. These questions may include, for example: “What would you like your students/trainees to be able to do at course completion?” For conceptual support, the designer will have access to examples of other vision narratives in the AuthorWeb database as well. The goal for this vision creation step is to encourage the designer to articulate what they actually want developed without the perceived limitation of an instructional model traditionally imposed by a given software package. AuthorWeb includes functionality to allow the user the revisit and/or rewrite their initial vision and save it in a searchable database – or a designer can opt to skip this vision creation step all together.

Stage II. Design

Once the vision is created, AuthorWeb will retain and abide by the scope of the designer’s original vision throughout the development process. The steps that follow will introduce the WBL framework into the vision to create a truly meaningful Web-based learning environment. In effect, the designers will be asked to consider and address all eight dimensions and sub-dimensions of the framework (see Figure 3). The designer starts at the pedagogy dimension, but they will then be able to determine the sequence in which they will address the seven remaining dimensions. Not that the designer can also leave and visit another dimension at any time in their development process.

AuthorWeb provides an easy-to-use

Design Table

format that guides the designer through the process. Figure 3 is a snapshot of the

Design Table

which includes scrollable columns:

Dimension Column

lists all eight dimensions and sub-dimensions of the WBL framework, which encompasses the WBT learning environment.

Item Column

contains items related to all dimensions.

Feature Column

contains the AuthorWeb features.

The functionality of the

Design Table

is very flexible. The designer can start with any of the three columns of the

Design Table

. If a designer chooses to start with the



Khan & Ealy, 2000


by selecting a specific dimension, which will prompt relative items and features to appear in the

item and feature column

s respectively. For example, the selection of the

5.2 sub-dimension

prompts items 5.200 through 5.299 to appear chronologically in the

item column

and the relevant feature will appear in the

feature column

that is most related to item 5.200.

The naming convention of AuthorWeb's features was selected in a way which will allow designers to immediately recognize its basic functionality. In addition, each feature will be supplemented with a description. If the designer encounters content-specific items that are not in the list (i.e.,

item column

), the designer can simply locate the AuthorWeb feature that most closely addresses that content-specific issue. In addition, by using

AuthorWeb, a designer may be able to identify more items relevant to their course content. As new technology and research surrounding WBT emerges, AuthorWeb will make sure more and more of these items and their relative features are available to the designers and learners. Because all issues surrounding WBT can be placed in

AuthorWeb’s WBL framework, the inclusion of such new items will be facilitated by the

AuthorWeb’s adaptive software.


Khan & Ealy, 2000

WBL Dimensions














Design approach


1.4 Methods and strategies

1.5 Medium


2.1 Infrastructure

2.2 planning


2.3 Software

Interface Design

3.1 Page and site design



Content design


3.4 Usability testing


4.1 Assessment of learners

4.2 Evaluation of the instruction and learning environment


5.1 Maintenance of learning



Distribution of information

Resource Support



Online support





Social and cultural diversity



7.4 diversity

Learner diversity

Information accessibility

Etiquette 7.5

7.6 Legal issues




Academic affairs

Student services

Items /



How would you like to notify students about any changes in the course?



5.203… and so on…

AuthorWeb Features

Breaking News

feature provides the learner with multiple communication options as it relates to important course announcements. If designer would like to select multiple methods of announcing changes will afford them a great deal of latitude.

Breaking News

Due dates

Instructor sick

Email Announcement






Exam cancelled

Server down

Technical problem

Inclement weather


Phone Mail


Figure 3: An AuthorWeb Feature for an item relevant to a WBL Dimension.


Khan & Ealy, 2000

Within the scope of this chapter we will only be able to highlight and briefly discuss a few of AuthorWeb’s features. The following section lists some of AuthorWeb’s features:

Breaking News

If a designer would like to use multiple methods for announcing changes in the course schedule, course assignments, etc.


AuthorWeb can afford the designer a high degree of latitude with the

Breaking News

feature (originating from the management dimension of the framework). This feature provides the learner with multiple options for receiving key communication pertaining to course announcements (see Figure 3).

Instructional Design


Instructional Design

feature (originating from the


dimension) will provide designers with just-in-time guidance on instructional theories, models, methods and strategies for both well-defined and ill-defined domains of learning as it relates to course content. Whatever the pedagogical philosophy (instructivist or constructivist) espoused by the designer, this feature will give the flexibility to choose the best method, given their course vision and course attributes.

Status Check

AuthorWeb's S

tatus Check

feature (originating from the


dimension) will keep track of the options used as well as options that were skipped. Please note that various options within AuthorWeb are systemically interrelated, meaning that a missed issue may require thorough revisitation. To prevent such arduous revisitations,

AuthorWeb includes a

Status Check

feature that serves multiple purposes including:

 a birds-eye view of the design process (Banathy, 1991),

 evaluating the compatabilty of the designer’s original vision of the course to its current direction.

Culture Shock


Culture Shock

feature (originating from the

ethical and interface design



provides the designer with sensitivity guidance regarding cross-cultural communication issues. For example, if a designer is developing training materials for an Arabic target population, which reads and writes from right to left, the screen location of the forward and backward navigation buttons will not be the same as it would be for an audience of other languages that do not read and write from left. The Culture Shock feature also provides the designer with a cross-culture navigation library, which houses all language/cultural-related issues relating to navigation conventions.




feature of AuthorWeb from the (originating from the

management and the institutional

dimensions) of WBL Framework, since its functionality encompasses the most common applications to e-commerce and other services. The most commonly used application as it relates to e-commerce and training is the ability to provide on-line course registration and payment.


feature will let the user register, track, create corporate or personal accounts and create user profiles (if approved by user), all in real


Khan & Ealy, 2000 time. In effect, AuthorWeb's


feature gives the designer "one stop shopping" ability for all related e-functions.




feature (originating from the

interface and ethical

dimension) allows the designer to:

Address a target audience that may speak several different languages.

Convert WBT materials into any of the following languages (Spanish, French, etc.)

Choose words and terms in different languages.

Since AuthorWeb has already guided the designer through the page, course, and content design process to a level of global acceptance, the language conversion process becomes simply a task of translating course materials as needed to the desired language. For example, a US company used AuthorWeb to develop a Camera Repair course in English for its multinational workforce. The translation in the course occurs by using the same file and simply changing the language via the AuthorWeb language menu. As a result, the company saved money, time, and frustration in redesigning the WBT in their effort to accommodate the changing needs of their audience through a straightforward, streamlined process.




feature(originating from the


dimension ) will support designers in creating and modifying adaptive, multimedial, and randomized tests. This functionality includes multiple evaluation capabilities, like advanced grading mechanisms that can be used to redesign training to address learner-specific needs.




feature (originating from the


dimension) feature includes dynamic 3D modeling, virtual reality capabilities, and simple conversion tools that aid the designer in creating basic and complex designs.

In addition, some other AuthorWeb features include:

Reusable Instructional Objects









Discussion Forum



III. Development

AuthorWeb’s flexible design and development environment makes creating meaningful

WBT courses/classes very easy. A designer should not be limited to one instructional design model and should be able to choose the most effective strategy given their course vision, goals and specified objectives. AuthorWeb provides a competent vehicle for accommodating such flexible course development. AuthorWeb’s innovative WBL framework will allow the designer to address all issues relevant to WBT, while still


Khan & Ealy, 2000 providing numerous options as far as course content manipulation. After the designer selects the desired features in the design stage, the development stage follows by appropriately integrating the features into a blueprint or storyboard, which the designer can use to preview the course.

IV. Evaluation



feature allows the designer to systematically perform usability testing. The highly interactive nature of the WBT now requires a course designer to constantly seek new ways to evaluate and test their course prior to the implementation.

Nichols (1997) reports, “The requirements for developers to build in compensating measures and for evaluators to check their effectiveness is a key requirement for Webbased instruction.”

V. Implementation

AuthorWeb will guide the designer through the implementation process. Depending on course structure and content, target audience, in addition to other related factors, distributing a geographically dispersed WBT course can prove to be a difficult task. By identifying the critical issues that must be considered when implementing WBT,

AuthorWeb provides a comprehensive, adaptable implementation process that will facilitate the successful distribution of course materials over the World Wide Web.

Critical issues for WBT implementation include:

Connectivity (access, systems, bandwidth, etc.)

Communication (learner-related, instructor-related, etc.)

Security (registration, access, accountability, etc.)

Troubleshooting (hardware-related issues [systems], support-related issues

[helpline], etc.).

Summary and Conclusion

AuthorWeb is a flexible and comprehensive authoring system with a simple vision of helping designers create meaningful online courses without having a background in instructional design, computer programming and critical issues related to WBT. At present, there is not a single tool which adequately address all of the issues concerning the eight dimensions of the Web-based learning environments. With the increased focus on the use of the Web as a delivery medium within the last several years and given the rapid pace of change in the type of hardware and software needed to employ WBT, having a powerful and flexible system will be paramount to the success of any training/education effort. AuthorWeb will continue to expand its features and functionality by focusing on research and development. A significant amount of the research and development will focus on creating advanced designer and learner applications, such as the items and features. AuthorWeb’s framework will facilitate the addition of items. Research and development will also continue to explore implementation and integration issues with a global perspective. Khan’s WBL framework has received a great deal of attention from professionals in the field of distributed learning. We believe academic researchers will continue to focus on the various


Khan & Ealy, 2000 dimensions of the framework which will continually the strengthen the effectiveness of the framework and AuthorWeb’s features and functionality.


Khan & Ealy, 2000


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Khan & Ealy, 2000

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Badrul H. Khan (e-mail:; or;; Web homepage:

is Associate Professor and Director of Educational

Technology Leadership cohort graduate program at the George Washington University,

Washington, DC. He is the founder of

, a recommended readings site on the


David A Ealy


is a project director with

Windwalker Corporation in McLean, VA.

Supplemental Website for the chapter: