Education puts docs on agency intranet

Education Department officials have launched a new service on the agency's intranet that they hope will help Education employees provide better customer service.

The feature, called The Learning Network, is a series of training and human resources development documents that department officials began placing on the intranet in late February.

The network includes a series of articles on using office technology that is common throughout the department. It also includes electronic handbooks and other how-to documents on technical skills, project management, team development and time management.

Walter Chia-vacci, leader of the Education team that developed the service, said The Learning Network is "a work in progress" and that information will be added continually to the site.

Chiavacci said the new site is envisioned as a way to make employees more knowledgeable so they can better serve department customers, including schools, students and financial institutions.

"We want to branch out to what our customer needs are," Chiavacci said. "This is only part of a whole— a way of approaching our customers."

Steven Magel, manager of the Knowledge Systems Group at management and technology consulting firm Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., said using an intranet this way can be appealing because it is usually designed around a World Wide Web browser that may already be familiar to employees.

But use of the intranet as a way to teach employees may not be that effective. Mike Frost, director of the online initiative of the Society for Human Resource Management, said intranet instruction may not suit people who learn better through human instructors. "Everybody's learning style is different, and there are people who really have to have an instructor," he said.

Advances in technology, however, make it possible for an intranet to carry live video or audio, making it possible for employees to be trained at their desks by a virtual instructor. "You literally can now have an instructor sitting in front of a digital camera providing training [via computer]," Frost said. "The delivery system is there. It's just a matter of what applications to use on the delivery system."

Frost said Education will have to plan carefully to find full effectiveness with its new intranet feature. A design that "entices" readers to the site will be helpful, he said, because use of an intranet— unlike class attendance— is difficult to make mandatory.

Also, The Learning Network might be more effective if all Education employees have access to it, he said. The department has nearly 4,900 employees, and more than 3,000 have access to a computer, an Education spokesman said. "If the idea is to provide access equally and consistently to all employees, but all employees do not have access to a computer, that may compromise effectiveness," Frost said.

Moreover, the content that Education officials are putting on The Learning Network should not be what intranet consultant Michael Rudnick calls "shovelware"— information that is just heaped, without much organization, onto a site. "You really need to have a rock-solid, underlying strategy for your site or area of your site," said Rudnick, principal at Cognitive Communications LLC, New York.

Magel agreed. "There really needs to be some maturity in the whole intranet approach to things," he said. "One of the big challenges is to sort of start out with an eye to the future."

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