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
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.