The Good News about Desktop Learning

By Keegan, Linda; Rose, Sherri | Training & Development, June 1997 | Go to article overview
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The Good News about Desktop Learning


Keegan, Linda, Rose, Sherri, Training & Development


Desktop learning, as defined by Apple University, the training arm of Apple Computer, is the "use of desktop computers by employees to improve skills and knowledge." It can be delivered via CD-ROMs or the Internet. Two years ago, Apple University began shifting some of its training to desktop delivery. Though managers needed and wanted development, the pace of the business made it difficult for them to "get away" to attend training. At the same time, Apple University's training resources were shrinking-fewer trainers and fewer dollars. It needed an alternative to classroom instruction. So, Apple began a worldwide push to connect CD-ROM drives to all of its computers, selling more than one million drives. In addition, almost 90 percent of Apple's managers had CD drives. The learning demand and the hardware supply converged for the launch of desktop learning.

First, Apple University created two CDs to give Apple's managers anywhere in the world access to key HRD information. One, Managers and the Law, covers the basics of employment law, including sexual harassment, equal employment, and the ADA. The other, Managers and Interviewing, covers interview preparation and techniques. The information on both CDs is presented through narrated text and video. For example, the interview CD shows clips of managers demonstrating effective questioning techniques. Managers and the Law shows vignettes, demonstrates what constitutes sexual harassment, and tells what managers should do when it occurs. The CDs also include reference materials - for example, the interview CD has a list of effective interview questions.

A third CD for a fall debut will cover performance appraisal. It will include a tool and tips for writing and giving appraisals. It will also have more than 600 phrases and paragraphs to use in describing people's skills and behaviors in such areas as project management, teamwork, and quality.

Because part of Apple University's charter is to increase managers' business knowledge, it produced another CD, Finance for the Rest of Us, targeted to managers that don't have business degrees. It's a fun, game-like way to understand balance sheets and profit-and-loss statements. Managers can choose from several learning modules, including one in which they "meet" with a roomful of shareholders and try to answer their questions about Apple's financial condition. In the module, the managers also create a balance sheet and profit-and-loss statement for a fictitious company.

Mixed reaction

Hundreds of Apple managers have used the CDs, with mixed reaction. Some appreciate the convenience, but others miss many aspects of classroom learning.

One manager says, "I enjoyed [the CD] on interviewing skills. It [enabled] me to review the [interview] process before the interview, [and its] flexibility fit my schedule, not a trainer's." But another manager says, "I still prefer classroom teaching. I always learn so much from the other participants." Another says, "The trainers are interesting and tell funny anecdotes."

Those last two comments made Apple University question whether learning is a social phenomenon or whether those particular managers were resisting an unfamiliar learning approach. To help people get over their initial discomfort with desktop learning, AU used a hybrid mode (a combination of CD and classroom training) when it introduced Managers and the Law to Apple's sales-force. Typically, the sales teams hold quarterly meetings on business results and future plans. The meetings also often have an educational element. In several such meetings, senior managers identified being able to understand employment law as a critical development need. Meeting attendees were asked to view the CD on employment law as prework and then attend a one-hour session in which a company attorney answered questions about the content and discussed specific situations that managers face in this area. Using the hybrid model - prework on the desktop followed by an hour of classroom time - proved to be an effective way to introduce people to a new way of learning.

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