More than text and talking

Given the shortage of people with technical skills in the United States,

logic dictates that distance learning, or Internet-based training, will

become a vital part of developing the technical work force of the future.

Although most would agree that Internet-based training is no substitute

for a good instructor in a classroom, the convenience and cost savings of

the new method make it impossible to ignore.

It's easy to see the merits of the system: Courseware can be accessed

anywhere, anytime, through an Internet connection. Any course can be attended

virtually by an unlimited number of students. And, typically, training costs

are significantly lower, although this is not always the case.

Indeed, setting up a distance-learning initiative is not without its

pitfalls. Some aspects of the learning process are sacrificed when the move

is made from a classroom to an Internet-based setting.

For example, in a classroom, students are a captive audience, which

minimizes distractions and makes it easier for students to focus. In an

Internet-based setting, the opportunities for distraction are literally


We are all too familiar with the telephone calls and innocent interruptions

that distract us in our home and work environments. Consequently, a student

being trained on the Internet must be more involved and committed for the

learning process to be successful.

And just as a good instructor can make all the difference in a classroom

setting, the courseware package can make or break an Internet-based training


Placing a few educational slides on a World Wide Web site is hardly

an effective tool for instruction. So careful consideration must be given

to the material being taught, the media used to teach it and how the students

will interact with the system.

Thought should also be given to the structure of virtual training. In

a traditional classroom setting, it would not be uncommon for a course to

be taught during the span of one or several days, with the occasional coffee

or lunch break. Applying the same practice to an Internet-based class would

be akin to placing the students in solitary confinement for that period.

The solution is to design Internet curricula to be self-paced. A well-written

Internet training package should have frequent, logical stopping points,

as well as the opportunity for students to resume the training where they

left off.

But the key to a successful Internet-based training program is not to

try to replicate the classroom setting. Students need much more than a Web-based

version of a textbook and a talking head to hold their interest. Program

developers must make the online curriculum more captivating than a traditional

course to overcome what is lost when the students move from the physical

to the virtual classroom.

—Plexico is vice president and chief technology officer at Input, an IT market

research and marketing services firm.


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