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European Computer Driving Licence reviewed

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Title: European Computer Driving Licence - Multimedia Training Programme
Publisher: Educational Multimedia
Format: CDROM for Windows 95, 98 NT
Price: Dependent on number of users, starts at £120

The manufacturers claim that after taking this multimedia learning resource for a test drive you will be "able to successfully complete the European Computer Driving Licence examinations". That may well be so as the CD offers seven carefully constructed learning modules geared towards the criteria set in the ECDL v3 specification.

The programme can be run off of the disc or installed onto the hardrive. For large scale users, for whom the system is perhaps best suited, it offers the chance for multiple users to log on and work through the material at their own pace. This is aided by offering personal log on passwords and progress tracking.

The product itself offers a fairly standard modular CBT approach. Modules match the ECDL and cover basic IT concepts, desktop and file management, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations and using e-mail and the internet. Each module is broken down into a number of constituent units. For example, those for the spreadsheet module comprise getting started; basic operations; using formulas and functions; formatting; printing. Additional information is provided on the ECDL standards, including a cross-reference as to which bits are covered by which units.

A comprehensive user tutorial is also available but many users are likely to get straight in there and start on the actual material. This would be a pity as whilst the interface is pretty intuitive and will feel familiar to anyone who has previously used CBT, the tutorial explains useful tools such as the facility for learners to make their own notes as they go, access a glossary of terms and the ability to monitor personal progress.

The programme also offers pre-assessment module tests with diagnostic questions to establish the learner's current knowledge (again something many over-keen users may not realise). Based on the pre-assessment a recommendation is made regarding where to start in the module. So, learners with good basic knowledge will start further into the module than absolute beginners.

Once into the units, the programme offers a series of animated screens, all based on the Office 2000 suite of programmes. With a mix of "show and tell" simulations and interactive mini exercises, the learner is guided through a logical sequence of training. The tutor's voice (male) talks learners through each stage with the script being reproduced onscreen as well. Pacing is quite good and the voice only occasionally becomes irritating (especially the "well done" when you do something right!).

Every few screens there is a progress test to check whether the section has been absorbed and end of unit tests check the overall learning for each module. Test scores can be checked from within the teaching screens with overall progress being tracked and recorded in an individual course report.

On-screen use is fairly standard with buttons to take learners forward and backwards, create notes, access the glossary, navigate around the course and so on. In addition, useful tips occasionally pop up to offer extra information and, if things go too quite for too long, the screen will prompt what to do next. A minor quibble is that it isn't always immediately obvious what to do next... at one time I thought my PC had hung only to discover that clicking "OK" on the useful tips box got things going again (probably said this in the tutorial!). Similarly small quibbles include the use of an inconspicuous shade of orange to highlight parts of the screen, the voice not always quite saying what the screen commands offer and sometimes self defeating descriptions such as that for network computers (those that are connected across a network).

A more important concerns focus on the fact that whilst the programme offers a lot of useful detail about how to open files, adjust settings, import images etc it is all based on Office 2000. This leaves me wondering whether non-Office users will find the programme as useful as those who are using the programme (or indeed whether those on older versions of Office will gain as much). Whilst I acknowledge that most programmes offer very similar features and commands the whole thing is geared so much around the Office suite that users of other suites such as Lotus or Corel may well have problems orientating themselves.

Which really brings me to my final, and positive, point. Whilst the programme is offered as being designed for the ECDL it is in fact a pretty good MS Office 2000 tutorial pack which learners could use whether or not they were going for the licence itself.... indeed I must admit to wondering whether that was its original purpose and the ECDL is an add on?


Neil Wellman, NetWork Associates, wellman@aol.com

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