Magazine article Training & Development

Easing into Multimedia

Magazine article Training & Development

Easing into Multimedia

Article excerpt

Ouch. Many of us in the training profession have learned some hard and painful lessons about new technology. "In the 1980s, when videodisc technology emerged, people were overly optimistic," says Kevin Wheeler, director of National Semiconductor University, the training arm of National Semiconductor, a chip manufacturer located in Sunnyvale, California.

Now, Wheeler might be considered a savvy technology user, with the wisdom born of unmet expectations. In the '80s, National Semiconductor hired an external supplier to create a customized videodisc training program on semiconductor processing technology. The topics included diffusion, basic physics, and other technical stuff. Despite the cost - $100,000 - the program was never completed. The design looked great on paper. But the technology - such as an early version of the touch-screen monitor - never worked quite right. And the program required computers that were too pricey to be used widely. From that experience, Wheeler learned a lot about implementing new technology.

Now, many training professionals recognize that multimedia training, distance learning, and electronic performance support are profoundly changing the way people learn at work. And they want to know how they can introduce multimedia training into their organizations as painlessly as possible.

Here are some guidelines for easing multimedia conversion, based on comments from people who have been there, done that.

Be realistic

Perhaps you're familiar with Murphy's Law, which holds that what can go wrong will go wrong. Here's Wheeler's Law regarding new technology:

* Development never happens as fast as you think it will.

* Technology always costs more than you think it will - often 10 times as much.

* It's best to start with something simple.

* Think twice before developing your own courseware. More than likely, you'll be reinventing something that's already available.

Still, Wheeler sees a need for what he calls "automated training" to replace many skill-based, instructor-led training programs, especially for mobile and geographically dispersed workforces. For example, National Semiconductor's completely mobile salespeople in Asia are outfitted with a cell phone and laptop with fax capability; they have no offices. So, how are they trained on new products? Automated training.

So, what should be your first training course to convert to multimedia? Deb Barrett - manager of associate training at Automated Data Processing located in Hoffman Estates, Illinois - says that the program should be simple to convert and also offer a potential return on investment. "Choose something that won't make or break you," she recommends.

For her first conversion, Barrett chose a three-day introductory course that previously required associates to travel to the home office for classroom training. She says that the multimedia worked well for the class because it involved mostly knowledge transfer. For other classes, such as troubleshooting, she prefers an instructor. Still, she's trying to obtain approval for the next phase of multimedia conversion by showing that the cost of multimedia development is offset by the money saved from eliminating travel.

In or out?

Once you've chosen which course to convert, you must decide whether to use external developers or build the capability internally with existing staff. The advantages of internal development include a low out-of-pocket cost, a sensitivity to organizational needs, the security of knowing that the program content is confidential, and the opportunity to enable staff members to learn new technology.

On the other hand, using an experienced development firm often means that the project will be completed faster with fewer glitches. And internal staff members will be available for other activities.

Barrett chose an external developer, though she says that ADP has plans to build some multimedia capability internally. …

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