Designing for Interactivity: Role Models, Guides, and Coaches

  by Scott DeLoach

This paper presents three methods of user assistance: role models (simple demonstrations), guides (structured walk-throughs), and coaches (active assistants). After a brief introduction, potential uses, available development tools, and additional information sources are discussed for each method.

Role Models
A role model allows the user to observe and imitate. Role models are linear and only provide one "path" through the information. They cannot evaluate user actions and they cannot actively initiate interactions.

When are Role Models useful?
Role models are often used to demonstrate processes or procedures or to teach "skills" such as foreign languages. Role models are most effective when the user can recognize both the required task and the correct result. For example, a role model could be used to explain how to install a newly-purchased printer. In this situation, the user can identify the task (connecting the printer to the computer) and the correct result (the printer prints a sample page). The role model could be a simple video of someone connecting a printer to their computer. Although the user cannot ask the role model questions, they can replay the video or pause it as they perform each step.

What can I use to create a Role Model?
Role models can be created with inexpensive and easy-to-use video and sound capture programs. Video programs include Microsoft Camcorder, Lotus ScreenCam, Quicktime, and Quicktime VR. Sounds can be recorded with products such as Microsoft Sound Recorder, and RealAudio.

Where can I learn more about Role Models?
Two useful tools that can be used to create role models are Camcorder and ScreenCam. Check out the following web pages for more information about these products:

  • Camcorder -
  • ScreenCam -

A guide provides a controlled environment in which the user can practice and explore. Guides can support branching paths through information based on user selections. They can evaluate user actions, but they cannot actively initiate interactions.

When are Guides useful?
Guides can be used to introduce new tasks and concepts. They are most effective when the user needs a quick overview of a product. For example, a guide might be used to introduce a new version of a word processor. In this situation, the user is familiar with the current product, so the guide should focus on introducing the new features and how they can be used. The guide could be a CBT that introduces and demonstrates a task, then observes and evaluates as the user performs the task. Although the user can only practice the tasks presented by the guide, they are free to learn and explore in a controlled environment rather than in the actual application.

What can I use to create a Guide?
Guides can be created using CBT applications, wizards, cue cards, or web-based technologies such as JavaScript and Active X. Potential CBT development tools include DemoShield, Director, and Authorware.

Where can I learn more about Guides?
To learn more, check out:

  • Wizards - Microsoft Word Developer’s Kit from MS Press
  • Cue cards - Designing Windows 95 Help: A Guide to Creating Online Documents by Mary Deaton and Cheryl Lockett Zubak

A coach encourages learning while doing. Coaches can create paths through the information based on the users needs and interests. They can evaluate user actions and they can actively initiate interactions.

When are Coaches useful?
Coaches can be used to provide on-the-job training and to enable productive error recovery. They are most effective when the user and application have a shared understanding of the user's goal. For example, a coach could be used in a retail checkout application. In this situation, the user knows that their goal is to complete the sale, and the system closely monitors their progress. If the clerk selects "credit card" for payment and does not swipe a card, the application could wait three seconds and then automatically display a video of a card being swiped through the card reader.

What can I use to create a Coach?
Coaches can be created using application development tools (such as Visual C++, Visual Basic, and Powerbuilder), CBT applications, web technologies, or Microsoft's Agent technology.

Where can I learn more about Coaches?
To learn more, check out:

  • Microsoft Agent -

Some excellent examples of coaching applications can be found in video games. For more information about video game coaches, see:

  • "Learning from Games: Seven Principles of Effective Design" by Rob Houser and Scott DeLoach in a forthcoming issue of Technical Communication.