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Technology Training: Realistic Training

Brian Holt

Issue #71, March 2000

A look at how training courses will be taught in the future.

One hundred million. That’s the number of Americans expected to be involved in adult or continuing education by the year 2004. Many of those individuals will be technology users who need to be trained on evolving software packages and hardware systems. A 1998 study published by International Data Corporation’s Information Technology (IT) Training and Education Service projected that the worldwide IT training and education market will experience a growth rate of over 11%, surpassing $28.3 billion by 2002.

Whether these individuals are CEOs, managers, supervisors or general staff, all need to stay current in order to perform their responsibilities with maximum effectiveness and efficiency. To meet the needs of an expanding marketplace, leaders in IT training will strive to stay in touch with a basic law of teaching—take complex material and make it easy to understand. To accomplish this goal, the computer training industry needs to be aware of four escalating trends. Some of them are here already; some of them will loom larger in the coming decade. The key, however, is to recognize these trends as the foundation of standards for a rapidly changing industry.

Individualized Learning

“The initiative has shifted from the corporate structure to the student, from the trainer to the trainee,” says Paul Swanson, president of Oasys, a corporate training firm in Toronto, Canada. “We’re talking about individualized learning for individualized applications.” The traditional classroom setting is more expensive and less effective than self-paced training videos, CDs or intranet courses. To meet the growing demand, developers of software training packages such as Keystone Learning Systems provide convenient, cost-effective courses on video and CD-ROM which trainees can use at home or in the office.

There is still no substitute for excellence in instructional materials, nor will there be. Red Hat 6.0, an eight-part series of training videos, was especially helpful for Liz Peterson, owner of Depco Business Services in Oklahoma City. Peterson works with trainees in units of about 50 platforms each, where interactivity is essential for smooth-running sessions in a stable learning environment. Self-paced training allows the student to go as quickly or slowly through a course as the need arises. Hands-on “see it, hear it and do it” training solutions are the wave of the future. Peterson is an avid supporter of video-based training, especially her Keystone program, because the videos hold the attention of the trainees. She reports, “Ordinarily, this stuff is dry, yet the Keystone videos make it interesting.”

The Move to the Web

The legend of the Internet is growing. On-line training will escalate in the next decade. Not that there aren’t downsides here; there are. Most suppliers of training materials for hardware and software applications are moving aggressively onto the Web, trying to connect training to the world of cyberspace. The development of speedy, effective and secure Internet applications is becoming a watchword across the whole world of IT. Office applications, networking, graphics/design, finance and operating systems will be affected as companies and independent users shift en masse to the World Wide Web. Trainers and their suppliers will have to respond.

Interactivity vs. the Hierarchical Model

The computer industry practically invented the term “hands-on”. This trend will continue. The training modules that will be in demand for effective lab work will continue to emphasize realistic configuration and administration tasks where, in effect, the learner is in the driver’s seat. “The reduction in instructional time when compared to the traditional instructor-led approach is typically in the range of 20-75%,” wrote Verl E. Dennis in the Journal of Instruction Delivery Systems (Winter, 1994). He added: “Interactive instruction offers a solution for minimizing training time without sacrificing desired training outcomes.”

The benefits are obvious:

  • no waiting for scheduled training
  • flexibility of access, no waiting to get to “relevant” bits
  • self-paced curricula, not at the mercy of the slowest or fastest learner
  • time efficiency—program stops when the trainee has mastered the skill
  • immediate feedback on mistakes
  • visual and audio aspects work together to reinforce each other

Multimedia, Voice Activation and Simulations

These three terms form a cutting-edge trend all by themselves. In IT, there is one thing that trainers and executives can reasonably expect—the unexpected. Software marketers and producers are already acting on this notion. Voice activation and recognition will begin to play a larger role in how we compute. There is also a trend in the desire for simulations. This cutting-edge technology allows the learner to “try the job” prior to actually “doing the job”.

It’s a matter of thinking ahead. Red Hat, Inc., which has been building the enterprise credibility of Linux for several years now, tells would-be trainers and trainees that “staying current with technology, best practices and user communities are all essential.”

Not so long ago, Price-Waterhouse introduced a CBT (computer-based training) Multimedia program as a prerequisite for a week-long classroom course. The program reduced by 50% the time needed for users to get up to speed. The cost per learner was $760 for traditional instructor-led training, versus $106 per learner for multimedia training. Price-Waterhouse estimated that sustained use of such multimedia instruction could amount to a savings of some $10 million US.

Top Trainers

Content is important with any course, but high-quality, competent instructors are also a must. You don’t send a boy to do a man’s job, and you don’t send an actor to represent the challenging world of network training. Along with experts in knowledge, you need expert teachers. It helps if trainers are tops in their field.

Paul D. Sheriff, a past president of the Orange County Visual Basic User Group, has more than 14 years of experience in programming business applications. “I like to teach people real-world concepts, not just how to use the syntax of the language,” he says. “I stress good programming standards, how to approach problems, and give real examples that I take right from my consulting business.”

Dr. Hany Greiss works as a Senior Technical Instructor for PEAC, Inc., in Ottawa, Ontario. His teaching philosophy shows why he is a sought-after teacher and trainer. “I say to all those I teach, do not become encyclopedias, but rather understand concepts, and when you’re on the job, you can look things up.” In hiring trainers, he says to look for people with a passion for their product, people with an eye for conveying the big picture. Small details can always be tended to in the field.

Self-Pacing a Plus

Everyone likes to learn at his or her own speed. Taking time away from an already-crammed schedule to attend a one-week seminar in a far-flung city requires lots of time and manpower. Here is where video technology comes to the rescue. For organizations that prefer quality training at a fraction of the cost of traditional classroom and web-based training or distance-learning applications, videos and CD-ROMS are an effective and creative alternative. Students are able to start, view, stop, review and start again at their own speed. Even better, there’s no one in the front row dominating the lecture or asking all the questions.

Individualized learning means the freedom, if not the necessity, of learning when and where you want. “On-line users and students need specific, detailed and often repetitive instruction,” says Paul Swanson. One of the most valuable advantages of self-paced training over a classroom setting is that while the classroom instruction will be over in an hour or two, the videos will still be around. The material is always there if the trainee forgets a concept or application.

The Certification Equation

A 1998 study by PC Computing Business Labs found that training increases employee performance by nearly 20% and pays for itself within weeks. The Gartner Group of Stamford, Connecticut, surveyed 250 enterprise managers in 1997 and found that 93% of companies surveyed pay for certification and 89% pay for training. Alert executives are closely scrutinizing trends in certification and testing.

It’s good to be realistic. Training, too, is affected by the old law of diminishing returns. Red Hat’s web site puts it this way: “Training alone is not enough to become a competent user, operator, system administrator or engineer. Good training can provide a foundation; the participant must do the rest.”

Realistic Training

Some challenges of the 20th century will remain to test 21st-century trainers. Gwen Wakal, president of the Edmonton-based Active Computer Service, a pioneer in computer training in Canada, says: “It’s still not as easy as it seems out there for one network to talk to another, even with Intranet and CD-ROM going for you.” Training for bridge-building platforms and cross-supporting technologies will be called for more and more as software packages try to find the middle of the road between greater complexity and a call for standardization. This means that at least as far into the future as we can see, affordable, high-quality, self-paced computer training products and trainees will be a mainstay as IT enters the new millennium. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate training as a 10,” says Liz Peterson. “Training will always be necessary,” concludes Wakal. “Make sure you get the best you can.”

The age of the laptop learner and the cyber-student is here. As the 1990s dawned, America’s Secretary of Education warned that traditional learning methods were in a time warp when measured against the mushrooming explosion in technology. This warning has specific application for the technology training industry. Too often, the chalkboard or out-of-town seminars are still the norm. Yet in this fast-moving world of intranet and Internet education, it is vital to sort out the glitz from the gold. What’s needed is a holistic and realistic look at the trends affecting technology training today and in the future.

Brian Holt is Marketing Director of Keystone Learning Systems.