For computer-based learning to be effective, it has to be
designed and authored successfully. This essay aims to familiarise
teachers with a few strategies of authoring courseware that
will make learning meaningful and effective. The following
courseware authoring strategies that one can adopt to create
learning environments will be discussed: the Socratic approach
(Keller, 1987, p. 176), Simulations/Games, the Computer-as-Pupil
and the Intelligent Assistant (Keller, p. 3).
The Socratic Approach
This is an authoring method that develops a questioning
approach similar to the dialectic approach used by the Greek
philosopher, Socrates. By engaging students in a dialogue,
the Socratic strategy seeks to enable students to see their
own mistakes and misconception. The typical characteristics
of Socratic-based courseware "to recognize and respond to
specific types of student misconceptions" through engaging
in students in a dialogue can be summarised into the following
five rules (Keller, p. 183):
- If the student commits an error of fact, the courseware
- If the student commits an error about something outside
the current topic, the courseware does not give a detailed
- If the student chooses an over-generalisation or a non-specific
option, the courseware offers counter-examples from a different
- If the student gives an irrelevant answer, the courseware
gives feedback on relevancy and offers counter-examples.
- If a student jumps to a conclusion, the courseware emphasises
logical reasoning skills.
Although these five rules can be programmed as essential
parts of the courseware, it is not possible to guarantee the
effectiveness of any one rule. However, all five rules do
contribute towards containing and managing how each student
The Socratic method has been extended to teach causality
to students. In doing so, the "basic strategy [has] remain[ed]
Socratic, assuming that by learning about specific cases first,
students could then generalise to others" (Keller, pp. 182183).
For example, a student, who is conversant with Java, an Object-Oriented-Programming
(OOP) language, should be able to apply that knowledge in
the learning of LINGO, another OOP language.
This method of authoring uses the computer to develop simulation
models of an experimental or imaginary world designed for
pedagogical purposes (Bork, 1981). Where simulations of real
world systems are used in computer-based learning, the computers
power to manage symbolic activity is harnessed to allow the
learner to exercise real control over controlled circumstances
and to practise certain skills (Crook, 1994). For example,
in a virtual UN Security Council environment (symbolic activity),
a student of international relations, by assuming the role
of UN Secretary-General, can conduct negotiations (control)
with other diplomats and enact strategies to counter international
terrorism. Or in a virtual Accident and Emergency Department
(symbolic activity), a medical student can adopt the role
of a doctor and be challenged to make optimal treatment decisions
(control) when faced with certain crisis.
Although simulations as described above may resemble recreational
games that award points for correct answers or actions, they
are instructional in nature and are not played for casual
amusement. Instructional simulations pre-test the student,
provide feedback during each simulation, post-test the student,
generate a student record, and generally do not award points
(Criswell, 1989). Such courseware that are able to capture
a students choice of answers have an in-built repository
of choice permutations. Simulations also require sets of complex
algorithms that are able to assess and draw conclusions on
each individual users performance profile.
This type of courseware aims to allow learners to construct
knowledge and develop problem-solving skills as they interact
with the computer. An example of this constructivist approach
(Crook, 1994) to help learners acquire programming skills
is the popular LOGO environment in which a robotic creature/computer
graphic, such as a Turtle, is instructed to move around by
typing commands into the computer, thereby drawing shapes,
designs, and pictures (The Logo Foundation, 2000).
The Intelligent Assistant
This courseware authoring method aims to provide support
as the learner interacts with the programme. One example of
a software programme created based on this strategy is the
Microsoft Office Assistant that appears as an animated miniature
graphic and offers you guidance while you work with Microsoft
According to Keller (pp. 187 & 197), when an intelligent
assistant is built into a courseware, it monitors the learners
progress and gives help when help is deemed to be needed as
the learner engages with the programme. In this way, the learners
thinking is challenged and alternatives are presented. By
constantly confronting and forcing the learner to clarify
his/her ideas, the intelligent assistant shifts the learner
away from a passive mode towards becoming an active participant
in the learning journey through machine/user conversation.
Although the intelligent assistant strategy may seem similar
to the Socratic approach, there is a distinct difference between
the two. The Socratic approach creates an environment of continuous
dialogue; in contrast, the intelligent assistant strategy
invokes dialogue when it is assumed it is needed.
Despite the large number of courseware authoring strategies
available, there is no single correct or complete strategy
that can address each and every instructional problem. As
Keller notes, "courseware cannot directly find out from the
student what it needs to know, and so instructional decisions
must be based on partial and inferential knowledge" (p. 195).
In addition, computer courseware cannot ascertain a students
motivational level in the same degree that a human teacher
can. Consequently before designing courseware, it is important
that a thorough needs analysis be carried out first so as
to determine which authoring strategy is the most appropriate
for the job.
Bork, Alfred. (1981). Learning with Computers. Bedford,
Mass, USA: Digital Equipment Corporation.
Criswell, Eleanor L. (1989). The Design of Computer-Based
Instruction. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Crook, C. (1994). Computers and the Collaborative Experience
of Learning. Chatham, Kent: Mackays.
Keller, Arnold. (1987). When Machines Teach: Designing
Computer Courseware. New York: Harper & Row Publishes,
The Logo Foundation. (2000). What is Logo?. http://el.www.media.mit.edu/groups/logo-foundation/logo/index.html. (Accessed: 15 January 2002).