Web-based training offers big benefits to fiber-optic cabling installers

A unique feature of Web-based training is the ability to link to any other material on the Web.

One of the greatest benefits of all the fiber-optic cable being installed is the growth of the Internet. As the Internet gains more bandwidth, it eases usage and spurs more growth of Internet-based information and services. It also creates a potential for whole new applications such as Web-based training.

Technical training is potentially one of the greatest applications for the Internet. Training is always available when and where you need it. For example, installers of fiber-optic cable who are working feverishly to get their installations finished find it impossible to take time off to attend training seminars. Cost is another issue--not just the cost of the training courses, but the employee time and travel expenses, which are usually much larger than any course tuition. With Web-based training, the student can take courses at any time and from any location as long as they have access to the Internet. With Web-based training, students can use the Web on-the-job and in the field to get help immediately.

Many types of training are available. Basic technology training can get the beginner started. Advanced training keeps trained workers up-to-date. Product training is especially effective for manufacturers since it can greatly reduce the cost of customer support. Web-based training, however, is still in its infancy and uses simple technology to deliver self-study programs. Internet access is still achieved through dial-up modems for the majority of users, and the low bandwidth of copper phone lines creates a bottleneck that limits us to simple solutions.

While we'd like to use more video, audio, and animation, today's available bandwidth makes downloads too slow for practical use of these technologies. Furthermore, there are too many competing technologies for the delivery of these services to make training universal. Much of today's Web-based training consist of simple lesson plans that lead the student to read material on the Web and then tests their comprehension. With the assistance of a vocational education teacher who was our summer intern at Cable University, we developed our first online training program on the basics of fiber-optic technology using this technique more than a year ago. It used a lesson plan linked to materials already available on our Website and included a quiz on each section.

Student response has been very favorable. We have thousands of students taking the course, and since the course is being offered as an experiment, it is free. There are no examinations, nor is certification offered. It is simply a way of training our customers on our fiber-optic test equipment.

We've just started our first experiments with virtual hands-on courses, covering the processes of fiber-optic installation. We break hands-on tasks--such as fiber-optic termination--into detailed steps and provide visual and written aids to better understand the process.

Jim Hayes is president of Fotec/Cable University in Medford, MA. More information is available on the company's new training Website at: http://www.cableu.net.

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