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by José Henrique Lamensdorf  

In the past few years, training video has shifted from VHS to DVD. For the more senior training professionals, it was just a change in equipment and media type - just as the previous one, from 16 mm movies to VHS tape. Many failed to notice that in this last shift we left behind something called
linearity, and that this opened a whole new world, filled with possibilities for interaction.

First of all, what does
linearity mean?

In a nutshell, it’s about having one point of departure, one destination point, and only one single, unavoidable, linear path connecting them. The easiest way to evidence linearity in 16 mm film and VHS tape is by witnessing  that they must be
rewound after the show. In other words, to go back to the starting point one has to go all the way in reverse, no matter at what speed. A DVD is not linear; there is immediate access to anything on it, all it requires is some structure to enable organized access.

Here, the training professional may consider his/her self as an individual, and question:
I used to rent films on VHS and watch them on TV. Now I rent DVDs, the image and sound are better, I have more dubbed/subtitled options, there are some extras included, but I still watch them exactly as I did before.

So let’s consider this training professional in action, leading a nonspecific training program. Depending on his/her familiarity with electronic equipment, s/he will have a different level of jitters when it's time to stop the video for a discussion, exercises, or other activities. That’s our well-known
“Stop and discuss” screen.

If s/he presses the wrong key in a linear system, it will be just a matter of cueing back/forward a bit, and stopping at the right spot. If s/he misses the proper key or timing with a DVD, unless they know its structure in depth, a lot of time may be wasted before finding the spot where they were. This increases stress, unless the operator is a keen “techie”.

The overhead transparency projector met its retirement with the glory from all the long years of valuable services provided. Now the slides are kept within a PowerPoint or other software file, on a computer. New technology, new problems. Using a computer different from the one where the presentation was created is risky. Some fonts may be missing, the software version may be incompatible… This increases the odds of a fiasco, resulting in undue additional stress for the instructor.

Regardless of everything having been checked and rechecked, there is still that overwhelming moment when the projector is switched from the DVD player to the computer, or from the DVD-playing software to the slide show program on the same computer. Onscreen menus, settings, etc. are an undesirable and unnecessary distraction.

Taking all this into account, I’m surprised that many training video producers and distributors merely transferred their programs from VHS to DVD, preserving the video linearity untouched. The only gain here is that there is nothing left to rewind. Even more surprising is that some internationally acclaimed producers ontinue to launch new training programs on DVD with the same old VHS-like linearity.

The intent here is to introduce the key possibilities offered by the DVD’s non-linearity in training.

Automatic stop – Instead of a “Stop the tape” screen, DVD allows the show to stop automatically at a certain point, displaying a fixed screen – which is actually a “menu” – where several options may be offered to the user to proceed, whenever they feel that it's time to do so. There is no automatic switch (like most VHS players) to resume play or stop after 5 minutes, to spare the tape or the magnetic heads from wear.

Standard sequence – In a video having several stops, to relieve the trainer from remembering which segment should be played next, it is possible to set the next segment as default, predefined for each stop: all that is needed will be to press [Enter] or [OK] on the equipment to proceed in the original sequence. This does not preclude other options from being available as well at this stop, in case the course leader decides to take a different route.

Alternative routes – At times, one same training video is adapted for a few different audiences. It was common to have three VHS tapes, all with the same beginning, three different cores, and one common end. In some cases there was one initial tape, three different core content tapes, and one final tape. There are some ways of handling this with DVD, having all our example's five videos (start + 3 cores + end) on one single disk, for instance, selecting one of the possible sequences from a menu at the beginning of the show. The three segments will be seamlessly shown in the proper order, nonstop, or having a stop after the first video segment, where a menu will allow selecting the “middle”, yet offering the option of stopping before the “end” video or not. All options may be included on the same DVD, selectable from a menu. Please note that many other combinations are also possible, this was just a basic example.

Embed slides – If the purpose of a stop is to present some topics, or to discuss certain questions, this is possible. Each such slide, for DVD authoring purposes, will be a “menu”, with one default option - just press [Enter] - and several others. For instance, it is possible for one such screen pose a question for discussion and, on the trainer’s judgment, proceed to a screen (or a video) with the suggested answers or, if trainees’ response is better than predicted, to go directly to the next question.

Beyond these linearity-related possibilities, there are other options a DVD may offer.

Inclusion of support materials – As the DVD is a disk that may be read not only by a player, but by a DVD-ROM computer drive as well, it is possible to include support materials (e.g. leader’s guide, workbook, handout masters, etc.) on the same disk, usually in Adobe Acrobat PDF files.

Dubbed and subtitled – VHS allowed only one audio track, and made it impossible to turn off existing subtitles. A DVD can host up to 8 selectable audio tracks, and up to some 30+ different subtitles, plus the option to switch them off. Obviously, we won’t use all this for training within one same country. However globalization has led many companies to invest in ESL training for their employees. The same DVD may hold a dubbed and subtitled film. Depending on the audience in each training session, it will be possible to select either option to show.

Presented with so many possibilities, the reader may be curious to know whether it is possible to de-linearize and bundle together the AV part of an existing training program. The good news is that it is absolutely possible, regardless of whether the material is already on a DVD, or still in VHS tape. The key issue will be the interface between the instructional and the technical sides.

A skilled DVD authoring expert will be able to execute whatever is required, however they won’t necessarily have the trainer’s view on what is the most straightforward or flexible way to implement it. A training pro certainly knows what s/he’d like to have, but sometimes misses the vision of their task being carried out under a different paradigm. If an instructional-to-technical bridge is successfully built, the process may be direct; otherwise it might involve a succession of attempts.

Regarding cost, it will be negligible if de-linearization is included in a translation and subtitling of a new video. For existing programs, the payoff will likely materialize in very few events, considering the lesser equipment required.

On this last point, it is interesting to notice that nowadays all the AV equipment for a seminar will fit into a briefcase: one DVD player, a video projector, and a set of amplified speakers – those used for computers – for small rooms. Larger venues will probably have their own audio equipment in place.

Finally, the gains. The use of nonlinear DVD does not contribute directly to training effectiveness. However it contributes a lot to trainer efficiency, which ultimately contributes to the training program’s effectiveness.

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