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10996 - The Macromedia Attain Enterprise Learning System

by - Joseph Ganci

No one can accuse Macromedia of resting on its laurels. Not that any company in this ever-evolving field could sit for more than five minutes before planning the next big thing without being left in the dust. In September, Macromedia introduced its next big thing: the Attain Enterprise Learning System, which includes a brand-spanking new version of Authorware, called Authorware 5 Attain, and Dreamweaver Attain, a product that is sure to change the way designers and developers are creating instructional materials for the Web. The third product included under the Attain banner is Pathware, Macromedia. s very robust Computer Managed Instruction system for large enterprises.

Authorware 5 Attain

Authorware has long been the market leader as the tool of choice for the creation of computer-based training and education for both the desktop and the Web. Its icon and flow line approach sometimes belies the power that rests within it to deliver media-rich interactive presentations and training. In version 5, Macromedia has added an immediately noticed new feature called Knowledge Objects (KOs). KOs are essentially wizards that allow nonexpert users to do anything from creating a simple glossary to setting up the code structure for a complete lesson. There are several KOs that ship with Authorware and many more that are becoming available from third parties. Any advanced Authorware user can create new KOs within Authorware itself for distribution to more novice users of Authorware.

This author believes that Macromedia added KOs to Authorware as a direct result of wizards being added to Asymetrix Toolbook, another authoring system. However, anyone who has used both will immediately recognize that KOs add a great deal more flexibility to the author. s ability to share models with other users than is true in Toolbook.

Authorware. s user interface has not changed much since the overhaul it received in version 4, but of course, there are more options available now. Some of the best include:

  • Antialiased text, long a desired feature by many users
  • Alpha channel support, which lets you add levels of transparency to objects, making for smooth animations and interesting effects
  • Built-in support for Flash animations, QuickTime 3 video, Voxware audio, and RealNetworks streaming video and audio
  • The ability to export any media elements which were saved internally or import any media elements to which there had been external links
  • A batch property editor, which allows authors to make the same change to all selected icons at the same time, a great timesaver
  • More built-in student data tracking, which can be output to text files, Pathware, or an ODBC-compliant database.

Dreamweaver Attain

Dreamweaver is a web editor that Macromedia released about a year ago. In that time, it has become a best seller. These sales were fed primarily by word of mouth and almost universal critical acclaim. It has become a de facto standard for many Web developers, including this author.

It is important to note that Dreamweaver Attain is a separate product. Built on Dreamweaver, it adds instructional Knowledge Objects that allow users to very quickly add instructional interactivity to any web site. All this is done through native code, HTML and JavaScript. This means that since you are limited to what is possible in HTML and JavaScript, you cannot create the kind of media-rich robust interactivity included in Authorware. However, many will be surprised to see just how much is possible directly in Dreamweaver Attain without the need of a plugin.

Selecting a Knowledge Object in Dreamweaver Attain lets you choose from many different interactive models, including multiple choice, drag and drop, hot spots, screen buttons, text entry, timers, and sliders. Most of these types include several variations.


Choosing one of the Knowledge Objects brings up several selectable tabs, which allow you a plethora of options. For instance, with drag and drop types of exercises, you can choose to have a draggable object returned to its starting point or snap to the center of a target or you can choose what happens when any pair of targets and draggable objects meet. For almost any instructional type, you also determine with the click of a checkbox which answers are right, wrong, or inconsequential, the number of tries allowed or a time limit, among many other options. Within a few minutes, you can already have created several attractive interactions for the Web. Imagine trying that directly in HTML or JavaScript!

In addition, Dreamweaver Attain also includes the ability to track user progress and report the information back to a database.

Pathware Attain

Macromedia purchased Solis, Inc. over a year ago and with it its Computer-Managed Instruction product called Pathway. Renamed Pathware, Macromedia released version 3.0 earlier this year, reviewed in these pages this past Spring. Pathware now falls under the Attain umbrella and serves as a means to track large amounts of data for many users at the enterprise level. It can act as the front end and back end for any number of computer-based and non-computer-based learning activities. Those activities created on the computer may be written in any computer language and can communicate with Pathware through the use of external functions. However, the new versions of Authorware and Dreamweaver Attain afford built-in communication with Pathware, making the combination of the three products formidable for delivery across the Web or the desktop. Activities that are computer-based can interact with Pathware at every level to retrieve and return student data so as to provide students with a rich and interactive experience as possible.

Pathware supports the Airline Industry CBT Committee standard for those who wish to comply by this standard, but it is not forced upon end users. It can keep track of everything from the course level down to the specifics of one interaction. Reports can be generated and instructors can track aggregate data for many students. Using Pathmaker, included in Pathware, instructors and designers can quickly outline a whole course, down to the activity level, defining the type of activity and many other data items that can be tracked.

Activities can be set up as prerequisites for other activities and courses can be set up for students to allow self-enrollment or be restricted to certain job types or departments.

Macromedia looks as if it. s taking seriously its mission to deliver tools that allow the creation of materials for the Web and the desktop. No tool is ever perfect, and even if a tool were perfect, new market needs constantly require more features to meet customer expectations. As long as Macromedia continues to create and evolve tools to meet these needs, it will continue to thrive in this marketplace.

Joseph Ganci is president of Successful Multimedia. He can be reached through his web site at

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