Whether the subject is fiber optics or finance, technology-driven courseware is giving corporate

Feb. 1, 1998

Whether the subject is fiber optics or finance, technology-driven courseware is giving corporate training a boost.

TOM JOHNSON, Teletutor

It`s not easy being a training manager these days, with so many people in need of different types of training, and only so much time and money to go around.

Once it was enough to train employees on the products that a company sold. Now, the Human Resources Department needs courses on compliance, sales managers need training in team-building and phone manners, and everyone, it seems, needs to know the basics of an increasing number of technologies.

That`s why interactive training (IT)--which includes computer-based training (cbt), Web-based training, multimedia cd-roms, and videoconferencing--is becoming essential in helping corporations meet training needs.

In her 1996 report, Worldwide and US IT Training and Education Market and Trends, Ellen Julian of idc Research reported that the delivery of interactive training via technology-based delivery methods (cbt, video, cd-rom/multimedia, epss, Internet, intranet, and satellite/ videoconferencing) will continue to grow at a combined annual rate of 30% for the next five years. Web-based training will see an 80% increase, Julian said.

Though few expect that interactive training will entirely replace traditional instructor-led formats, which can offer hands-on learning, the reasons for the rise of interactive training are clear. Here are a few:

A time and money saver--One of the chief advantages of interactive training is its efficient accommodation of corporate schedules. Employees might, for example, learn the basics of Synchronous Optical Network technology by taking a lesson from a cbt course at their desks for an hour each day for a week. Or lessons could be taken on weekends, or even on a plane using a notebook computer. Such flexibility lets workers remain on the job while they learn, saving the company thousands of dollars in travel and lodging expenses for off-site training, in course or seminar fees, and in lost work hours.

With many courses available in local area network or corporate intranet versions, many students can be consistently trained on a given technology at the same time. Web-based "virtual campuses" promise even more titles and increased tracking capabilities.

A primer for company training--Many companies invest heavily in training to help employees better represent their products and to help customers make better use of them. So trainers want to spend every minute teaching the products, not making sure that everyone is on the same page. But some trainees are ready to learn how to configure network test equipment, while others think multiplexing is a hockey penalty.

Interactive training taken before live classes can ensure that everyone has absorbed the fundamentals. Student familiarity with a technology`s terminology and key concepts before going in can help trainers make better use of class time. In some cases, the implementation of cbt has shortened live training courses by as much as 50%.

An online resource--Stand-up trainers and consultants brought in to give seminars are expensive. And after 5:00 p.m., they`re usually not there for crucial follow-up or reinforcement training. If you want them back, you have to pay them. This is another advantage of interactive training: A course can reside on a student`s PC for as long as the student needs it.

Having a course on one`s computer allows a student to go over the material several times. The course can also serve as a reference tool to look up definitions from online glossaries and re-examine key concepts pertaining to work when needed. In addition, some courses have note-taking or page-tagging features that let students customize material to include company- and product-specific information.

Interactivity--One of the goals of training is to offer equal opportunity for trainees to absorb new skills and knowledge. In this regard, courses delivered on a computer have some advantages over more-traditional classes. A teacher may call on one person in class to answer a direct question or help with an example. cbt fully engages everyone taking the course.

Many courses interact with students by asking questions every few screens. These questions ensure that students understand the material just read. Some courses offer quizzes with automatic reviews presented each time a student misses a qui¥question.

In addition to qui¥questions, some courses use animation, audio, and video to help explain concepts and engage students, so the training becomes more than a passive experience. They may include exercises, such as putting together a model on screen or changing parameters to observe results.

As PCs continue to increase in power, as the Internet becomes more accessible, and as intranets become more prevalent, technology-based interactive training offers immense potential for getting and keeping us all up-to-speed while improving the bottom line. q

Tom Johnson is vice president of research and development for Portsmouth, NH-based Teletutor, a developer of computer-based training courses on fiber-optic technology and a provider of a comprehensive Web-based virtual campus.

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