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One of the most frustrating and expensive aspects of transitioning to any new software product or version upgrade is the impact to productivity while tackling the learning curve. The downtime associated with learning new tools and techniques can be a significant barrier to technology adoption, and many firms will lag with the status quo to avoid the potentially cumbersome implementation of new products. The product team at Inprise took this factor into account when planning the launch of JBuilder 2, and adopted an integrated learning system from Hawaii-based Referentia Systems Incoporated, to provide a rapid ramp-up for the new release.

Taking full advantage of JBuilder 2's open API and architecture, Referentia adapted the Referentia Learning System to provide an integrated, extensible multimedia training resource that JBuilder users can access 24 hours a day. At its core the system is a software framework designed to integrate with software applications and deliver multimedia instructional material. This new learning platform offers rich concept and lesson animations, a keyword topic search for performance support on the job and an advanced "Try It" feature, letting users load-sample files directly into JBuilder and practice the lessons along with step-by-step narrated instruction. The integration with JBuilder 2 includes links to JBuilder Help documentation, accessibility through JBuilder's Help menu and hooks to call JBuilder to the foreground in the "Try It" mode. With content focused on project examples and on-the-job productivity tips, the system is designed to bridge the gap between online reference and full-fledged training.

Figure 1
Figure 1:  Tutorials, Fast Answers and Concepts are the three
main sections of the Referentia System

The idea isn't new -- in fact, for many years visionaries in the fields of computer-based training and electronic performance support system design have suggested built-in training for software products as the obvious ideal in a multimedia-capable world. Only in the last couple of years, however, has the installed base of multimedia-capable workstations grown to levels that can provide a firm market for rich audiovisual training aides.

Referentia Systems has been at the forefront of the integrated multimedia training field, supplying Autodesk with an in-the-box integrated training system for AutoCAD Release 14 in May 1997. The product, first of its kind, won awards in both the CAD industry and in tech pubs/documentation circles.

The newest version of the Referentia Learning System adds the ability for multiple volumes of training content to be introduced into a single outline tree. Referentia for JBuilder 2 leverages this capability by categorizing the available content into separate CD-ROM volumes, thus giving users the opportunity to choose from a library of content titles geared to discipline-specific needs.

Figure 2
Figure 2:  Concept animations bring complex terms and techniques to life.

Volume I: Getting Productive
Volume I provided with JBuilder 2 contains a starter set of content including tours of the JBuilder 2 IDE and quick-start lessons for building JavaBeans, setting breakpoints in the debugger, creating a UI for a simple database application and other helpful information.

Volume II: Building Applications
This is a full-sized Java database application development course containing roughly a week's amount of instructor-led training content on a single CD-ROM. More than 45 in-depth lessons and concept animations are designed to help users increase productivity in developing real-world Java database applications. In this series of interactive tutorials, users gain a strong understanding of the JBuilder data model, master a solid foundation of essential and advanced database techniques and learn how to complete their database application development with advanced user interfaces and various deployment strategies. Specific topics include terminology, relational databases, JDBC, DataExpress, DataStores, master detail forms, queryResolvers, queryProviders, layout managers, JFC/SwingSet, Web deployment and other key topics.

Volume III: CORBA Essentials
Volume III will cover the basics of distributed computing in JBuilder 2, including deployment server and enterprise beans. It's scheduled for release in early 1999.

Once installed, Referentia for JBuilder 2 is accessible from the desktop or through JBuilder 2's Help Menu. The system can be run as a stand-alone training tool on a multimedia-capable PC or integrated with JBuilder to provide performance support on the job. The system's browser-style interface offers three functional areas of navigation: Tutorials, Fast Answers and Concepts.

The Tutorials section contains lesson animations grouped into a sequential tree outline. Opening any of the lessons reveals an HTML text window displaying the lesson steps, with hot links to JBuilder 2's online documentation for more comprehensive reference on specific topics or links to Concept animations for general reference. Selecting "Play Animation" starts an AVI sequence that brings the lesson steps to life in a smooth screen recording with accompanying step-by-step narration.

Figure 3
Figure 3:  Watch and listen to step-by-step lesson animations, then try it with JBuilder.

In the Concepts section users can choose from a glossary of terminology illustrated by rich 3D visualizations. The Concept animations offer strong reinforcement of complex subject matter (e.g., data modules, JDBC, Swing architecture) to allow users to grasp the big picture before they attempt the details of a lesson. Fast Answers is where users can look up information quickly through a keyword index or by category. Searches pull up information from all available sources Including relevant Tutorial lessons, Concept animations and JBuilder Help files.

The integration with JBuilder is key to Referentia's functionality. Although the system can be run as a stand-alone training aid, its optimal use is clear when running simultaneously with JBuilder 2. From any lesson, users can access a "Try It" feature that brings JBuilder to the foreground and leaves a floating instructional window on top with the lesson's step-by-step text. An "Open Sample File" button automatically loads project files into JBuilder for practice in real time. Once the files are loaded into JBuilder, users can follow along with the text or elect to play the audio track and listen to the narrated lesson steps while performing the operations live in JBuilder.

Figure 4
Figure 4:  The Try It feature leaves an instructional window on top of JBuilder

It was this live "Try It" feature that attracted technology scouts from the Ohio DOT to the project. Senior programmer Angelo Serra heard about the project through consultants working with Inprise. After testing the Referentia system in its beta release, Serra knew the product would mean less downtime for their team as they transitioned to Java and JBuilder.

"At the Ohio DOT we're including Referentia for JBuilder in our training program because our developers prefer the audiovisual approach of the multimedia CD," Serra said. "It will significantly increase our productivity."

Senior computer scientist Vic Askman at GTE Internetworking echoed these sentiments after incorporating JBuilder 2 and reviewing the accompanying Referentia Learning System. "The capability of the Try It feature is extremely useful, and the animations are well paced -- not too fast or slow," Askman said. "Content was relevant to Java as well as JBuilder 2, and it should have a positive impact on the bottom line since it will help ease the transition to JBuilder 2."

This new way of learning will help speed the development and deployment of Java applications for new and experienced users alike. Content is written to an intermediate level, assuming basic knowledge of programming in a RAD environment. Programmers migrating from other development languages will find that JBuilder's inclusion of an integrated multimedia training system allows for a rapid ramp-up on Java development within the JBuilder 2 IDE. Those with intermediate to advanced Java programming expertise will find the system useful for getting familiar fast with the new features of JBuilder 2. Future volumes of content will address specific JBuilder training needs from novice to advanced topics.

Referentia has supplied learning systems for AutoCAD Release 14, AutoCAD LT '97, Autodesk's Architectural Desktop and Seagate Software's Crystal Reports 6.0. Parties interested in evaluating the Referentia Learning System can request a free copy of the Referentia for JBuilder Volume I CD (shipping and handling fees will apply) and get more information about additional volumes online from Referentia Systems Incoporated, at www.referentia.com/jbuilder or by calling 1 800 569-6255.

About the Author
Larry Lieberman heads up corporate communications at Referentia Systems Incoporated His recent speaking engagements include technology presentations to the U.S. Navy and a conference address on the emergence, utility and impact of multimedia training materials. He can be reached at [email protected]


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