New system adapts computer-based training material to user's learning style

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 1 July 2000




(2000), "New system adapts computer-based training material to user's learning style", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 32 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

New system adapts computer-based training material to user's learning style

New system adapts computer-based training material to user's learning style

Keywords Computer-based training, Learning styles, Research

Criticism that computer-based training (CBT) ignores each user's preferred learning style may soon be a thing of the past. Research by a group of six organizations – three in the UK and three in Italy – which began in January 1998, has produced a system that adapts any piece of CBT material to each user's preferred learning style.

The result of this research is a ten-hour multimedia "Training in Electrical SysTems" (TEST) programme, providing training on the European CENELEC wiring regulations. However, the consortium that has developed the programme believes that the infrastructure they have developed can be used for any piece of CBT.

This £1.25 million project forms part of the European Union's "Esprit" programme and represents a combined effort of 15.7 man-years over 27 months.

Bespoke e-learning specialist VEGA Skillchange is developing the training design and courseware components, Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh is developing the artificial intelligence at the heart of the system, and Eastern Contracting is providing subject-matter expertise. The other participating organizations involved in this international project are AEM, the Milan electricity generating company, which is providing complementary subject-matter expertise; Giunti Multimedia of Milan, which is acting as project manager; and Interactive Labs of Genoa, which is contributing specialist resources and technology. Explained Adrian Snook, a consultant with VEGA Skillchange:

The programme's artificial intelligence makes deductions from the user's reactions to the programme and then offers on-screen prompts that are in line with its judgement of the user's preferred learning style.

In other words, we have tried to develop an adaptive learning system that emulates a human tutor.

The TEST project involved defining 80 separate training goals relating to the testing and inspection of domestic electrical installations.

We then defined some 80 training plans, comprising one or more sequences of training. Each training plan has a number of components – there are 8,000 in all. Each of these is a discrete "chunk" of learning that could be accessed at any time throughout the programme.

The consortium used Macromedia Director to build the student interface, while the course content was compiled in a mixture of HTML, Flash 4 and AVI. Heriot-Watt University developed the expert system engine for the project in Java.

Keith Brown, of the department of computer and electrical engineering at Heriot-Watt University, explained:

We jumped at the chance to develop a commercial scale multimedia training system that is adaptive to meet each individual's needs. This project has given us the opportunity to develop our research in intelligent training systems while working with some of Europe's leading multimedia courseware producers.

The intelligent system at the core of the TEST project will permit a greater flexibility of use of multimedia resource developed for a particular domain. This will mean that a greater range of users will be able to gain the benefits of multimedia training.

According to Snook, designing the course curriculum has posed challenges. He said:

Since you can't have a conventional "storyline" running through the programme, it can be a real challenge to link courseware components. There has also been some difficulty in defining the rules regarding a user's learning preferences in such a way that they can be passed to the intelligent system we are developing.

For further information about VEGA Skillchange, visit For further information about VEGA, visit Or contact Alistair Morrison at Skillchange. Tel: +44(0)1438 741441, or Andrew Taylor at VEGA. Tel: +44(0)1707 391999.

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