If you went to school in the 1950s or before, you probably received a copy of the book ’Elements of Style.’ ’Elements’ was a staple of English composition classes, and taught a generation of schoolchildren when to punctuate their sentences and how to write effectively. The book is still in print, but tragically it is unlikely that it will be updated to include computer-based communications such as web site design and computer-based training.
One of the greatest problems facing organizations struggling to reap the tremendous benefits that technology has to offer is that there is no established ’style’ for using the technology. There are no rules or traditions that let users know what to expect and keep authors from reinventing the wheel every time they start a new project.
Technologies such as web-based training can offer an organization tremendous advantages if used with the proper style. A 1990 Institute for Defense Analysis review of over 40 different studies in industry, education and the military found an average 31% savings in time was achieved with multimedia training compared to a traditional classroom environment.
Diane Oswell, Assistant VP, Global Human Resources Development, estimates that the cost of delivering a Microsoft Excel technical support course is $150 per user in a traditional classroom, $300 in an external classroom, $900 for traditional tutoring, or $2.50 per user to deliver the material over the web.
Furthermore, because the information in a computer-based training course is interactive and allows students to learn at their own rate, retention is higher: There is as much as 70% retention of material for multimedia computer-based training versus 10% for traditional lecture-based learning.
While the cost for developing custom-designed computer-based-training (CBT) may be three to four times the cost of a traditional course for the first year, the cost for maintaining a CBT course from year to year is frequently less than half the cost of an instructor-based training course.
|Computer-based training offers the benefits of self directed learning that a student would get learning on their own, with the added benefit of audiovisual support, feedback, and possibly even interaction with an instructor.|
One of the largest problems with today’s schools and even some corporate and government training programs is that they employ a pedagogy that says that knowledge is supposed to flow from an active teacher to a passive learner. The crucial page missing from this playbook is the one recognizing that interaction is crucial to the learning process. Computers are an excellent tool for helping students to learn through an active and interactive process rather than a passive one, since they lower the cost of feedback.
Most people taking web-based training courses learn the material in less time than it would take for them to learn the material in a classroom environment. This is true, in part, because the lesson doesn’t have to move at the pace of the slowest learner, but moves forward as the user learns the material. CBT offers the benefits of self-directed learning that a student would get learning on their own, with the added benefit of audiovisual support, feedback, and possibly even interaction with an instructor.
The Gartner Group estimates that one hour of formal CBT equals six hours of ad hoc learning.
Furthermore, web-based training can eliminate costly travel time and allow people from remote locations to communicate with one another if a chat feature is part of a course. CBT, because it can be readily duplicated, helps to enforce standards across an organization.
CBT also offers considerable benefits in terms of employee morale that aren’t readily noticed or quantified. While managers often consider training to be an investment, many employees see it as a benefit – that the company is taking an interest in their future.
|Most people taking web-based training courses learn the material in less time than it would take for them to learn the material in a classroom environment?The lesson doesn’t have to move at the pace of the slowest learner, but moves forward as the user learns the material.|
So what style – what approach – can a director or manager use to get these benefits? The answer starts with finding the nearest textbook, opening it to page 1, and drawing a large ’X’ across the first page with permanent marker. Turn to the next page and repeat. Do this until you’re finished with the book. Web based training (WBT) and CBT is not just a matter of taking a book and putting it online, and it’s important to avoid purchasing training courses that are nothing more than electronic books, or ’page-turners’.
Take advantage of the opportunity to find a course that is user driven. Or, if the course is to be instructor-led, make sure to find a training program that encourages the student to interact with the program in an environment that approximates their intended work environment as much as possible. The best forms of computer-based training are those that are integrated into the activity or device to be learned. This approach is most easily used to teach computer-related skills, though palm-pilot based tutorials and reference guides can be helpful in implementing CBT in a hands-on environment.
Unfortunately, having people learn in an environment that looks like the one in which they’ll eventually work usually isn’t possible and learning has to be separated from the actual activity. In this case, you have two choices:
- Procure a program that is user-driven and gives the user the information that they ask for when they need it (as opposed to the traditional, sequential method) using a number of interactive learning modules, or ’information nuggets’. These ’nuggets’ are tied to the central user interface or menu in much the same way that spokes radiate out from the axis of a wheel.
- Get a program that is used as a supplement to an instructor-led course.
|In the same way that computers haven’t created the ’paperless office’, computer-based training is unlikely to create the ’teacherless classroom’ as many early critics of computer-based training feared.|
The second option is looking to be the most popular. In the same way that computers haven’t created the ’paperless office’, computer-based training is unlikely to create the ’teacherless classroom’ as many early critics of computer-based training feared.
Finally, a warning: CBT is not for every organization or every circumstance. The costs of custom designed CBT can be prohibitive unless there are a large number of people using the course, the course is going to be reused from year to year, or the recipients place an very high value on their time.
|State League Offers Gateway to Online Instruction Through its web site, the Florida League of Cities, in conjunction with Learn Something.com, offers its members the opportunity to participate in online education. Members can browse through course catalogs, enroll in classes, and then take the course(s) online.
The “Professional Skills Series: Web Development Series” is an example of one cluster of courses offered through the site. For $179, “e-students” have access to over 49 courses related to web development protocols and software for a six-month period. An $89 “Business Skills Development” series includes over 35 courses that cover a variety of topics, from time management to communication skills – and even refresher courses in grammar and math.
Many companies underestimate the cost of a well-designed CBT program. Marilyn Harris, President of Total Training Solutions, a company that uses technology to improve interactivity, motivation, student self-evaluation, and student progress tracking, estimates it takes about 160-420 hours of work to produce roughly an hour’s worth of computer-based training material, compared to 40 hours to produce an hour’s worth of instructor-led classroom material. This is balanced somewhat by the fact that an hour’s worth of CBT material contains more information than an hour of traditional lecture material.
The price tag attached to an hour of work varies considerably from organization to organization. Once developed, however, CBT can be updated very efficiently since materials don’t need to be reprinted or redistributed to students.
Regardless, as computer-based training becomes more popular, off-the-shelf applications that allow smaller operations to utilize the benefits of computer-based training will become more common even as use of more expensive custom-designed courses skyrockets. Corporate investment is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2005 from roughly $3.5 million in 2000.
|Sources/Additional Resources: “An E-Learning Industry Update,” (link no longer active) by Tom Barron, Learning Circuits
Total Training Solutions, Marilyn Harris, President
“The Training Imperative,” by Margaret Steen, InfoWorld
Despite the new way of learning that computer-based training offers, the old rules of punctuation and sentence structure still apply. Web-based training doesn’t close the book on the old “Elements of Style”. It simply writes a new chapter.
By Ryan Wise