Beyond Authorware or not?

Authorware has come to my attention twice this week. I felt a twinge of sadness when I read Richard Nantel’s blog “The retirement of Authorware”.

Authorware was one of the most popular authoring tools available. Over the last 20 years, thousands and thousands of hours of CBT and online courseware have been developed using the tool.

In fact Authorware has a special significance for me – in some ways you could argue that it is partly to blame for me being in e-learning at all. When I was a lecturer in Chemistry I visited a professor at Cork University (Brian Hathaway) who showed me how he had been using Authorware to create interactive tutorials. I was amazed at how easy it looked and for some bizarre reason the image of a dove flying across the computer screen in one of these tutorials stuck in my mind (I didn’t say anything about the pedagogy of some of the tutorials!!!). Now ordinarily that would have been the end of it, given that it cost ca. £1000 which was a heck of a lot in the early nineties, but as luck would have it when I mentioned this to my head of department he at once took note and to my surprise allowed me to purchase a copy. I am sure the fact that the department was imminently due for Quality Inspection had nothing to do with it! ;-) Authorware image Anyway that was me off on e-learning developments, I soon got to know the people working in the then national Chemistry CTI centre, the web was just getting going, and the rest is history as they say!! Sadly I couldn’t find any trace of any of these original tutorials or the ones from Cork University, but this image gives a flavour of the look and feel of Authorware from Paul Hsu.

My second encounter this week with Authorware was at a seminar I gave at the LSRI at Nottingham University. I was talking about how we are using an adapted version of Compendium for learning design and also the different ways in which you can represent learning activities (textual narrative, diagram, etc) and the pros and cons of each approach. Mike Sharples said the way we were using Compendium – with ‘swim lines’ of tasks and associated assets reminded him of the look and feel of Authorware. Interestingly as an aside I seem to remember that there were two distinct camps in terms of creating computer-based material in those days – those (like me) who liked the ‘flow chart’ metaphor of Authorware and those who like the ‘narrative’/’book metaphor’ of toolbook. The former camp seemed to be primarily Scientists and Engineers and the later camp from the Humanities and Arts. So maybe I am influenced in my current work by my Chemistry background and subliminally by my use of Authorware. Certainly there are echoes in the current debates about ways of representing learning activities and the pros and cons of different learning design tools with the arguments back in the nineties about Authorware vs. Toolbook. What goes around comes around perhaps?

6 Responses to “Beyond Authorware or not?”

  1. Al Selvin Says:

    As the original developer of what became Compendium, it’s very exciting to see you use the tool in this way, and to read about how your background in course authoring had led (in part) to your current work. While I never used Authorware itself, the concept of authoring narrative artifacts with software was very much in the zeitgeist that produced the Compendium approach. I came out of film and video, where particularly the editing process has great similarities to what one does with authoring software, and also did a fair amount of work with Hypercard and similar tools in the 1980s. Approaches involved in using software to construct flowcharts and presentations (especially when they included animation and other kinds of “build” effects), not to mention the kind of complex document assembly approaches involved in software like Ventura Publisher and FrameMaker, also played into the mix.

    We intended Compendium, as software, to be open-ended on many levels, so that one could indeed use it as an authoring environment freed from the constraints of particular forms (such as conventional documents or for that matter, IBIS maps), without losing the ability to feed into those forms when desired. The downside, of course, is that such freedom and open-endedness requires creativity, and some technical expertise, on the part of the user. One needs to know some things to be able to glue Compendium artifacts into other sorts of representations. But the capability is there and it’s great to see you exploring its use in the e-Learning domain.

  2. Peter Miller Says:

    Plenty of scientists in the ToolBook/HyperCard camp, not least because these tools gave you a simple way of GUI-based programming pre-Web without resorting to the likes of MS-Pascal (which I am old enough to recall was supported in the original MS-Windows SDK).

  3. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Al
    Thanks for the comment! Its really interesting to hear the way in which Compendium was developed. I agree with you about the issue of control vs. freedom - it is something we are struggling with in the LD work - too much control limited creativity, too little and users don’t know what to do. I feel that part of what we are doing in our working is trying to come up with some sort of a learning design methodology which will provide guidance and get users to think differently and hopefully more innovatively! about their design

  4. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Pete - yes apologies my comment re: Authorware vs toolbook may be a gross over simplification - perhaps a more distinction is about how the different structures of the environments and their affordances will have guided use…

  5. Al Selvin Says:


    There is more material on Compendium’s history at the below URLs:
    (I have to update this now that 2007 is almost over!)
    (and elsewhere in the Knowledge Art blog)

  6. Gráinne Says:

    Thanks Al I have added them to my links

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