Magazine article Training & Development

Classrooms without Walls: Three Companies That Took the Plunge

Magazine article Training & Development

Classrooms without Walls: Three Companies That Took the Plunge

Article excerpt

When a training director could reach all of her employees by walking down the hall, she had little need for sophisticated technology to enable communication. Distance learning was needed only by people in rural areas and was originally limited to videotapes and correspondence courses.

But today's workforce has gone global. When a company has to communicate with or train thousands of employees, it now can run a live interactive session, connecting them throughout the world. The old alternative - traveling to present material to workers in person - is still there. But we have choices.

The beauty of technology is that we don't have to travel for two weeks when we can reach everyone in two hours. And, the message is consistent for all listeners. The entire group can exchange knowledge and questions. Differing insight and perspectives inform the larger audience. Sounds just like a classroom, doesn't it? Well, it is a classroom - a classroom without walls.

Peter A. Gudmundsson, chief operating officer for Primedia Workplace Learning, agrees completely. He sees a dynamic, changing industry with market potential beyond the scope of what we have now. He says, "What industry doesn't value information and knowledge? Our market tells us that distance learning provides access to information better than any previous delivery mechanism. For businesses to succeed, one must provide information beyond basic business data or traditional training."

Technology-enhanced classroom delivery is one thing; we all need a little PowerPoint in our lives. But making the decision to deliver training over the Internet or via live satellite broadcast is a different commitment. The benefits of making the switch are endless, but there are financial and quality issues to consider, a few adjustments to be made. How are companies handling those changes? What lessons have the early adopters learned? Let's look at three companies that took the plunge.

Electronic Data Systems

EDS launched its internal interactive distance learning network (IDLN) in 1990. Brant Weatherford was at the helm as manager, Learning Environment Deployment Group. Says Weatherford, "We wanted to build a training facility from which we could broadcast, not a broadcast facility from which we could do training. We wanted technology to serve the human endeavor, not drive it."

The biggest hurdle they faced was managing the change from low-tech classroom to high-tech studio. Learners seemed willing to give distance learning a chance. Most of them adopted the attitude: "Show us what you have. If it's any good, we'll keep coming back." However, people charged with preparing and presenting the instruction were hesitant to embrace a different way of doing business. When you've been successful doing something one way, you're reluctant to change, But the leaders had confidence that training over the distance network would be as good, if not better, than in the classroom. The team leaders chosen for the project had instructional backgrounds, and the studio software systems were designed from an instructional perspective.

The automated studio environment lets instructors control all instructional materials used during the broadcast. The instructor's primary tool is a touch screen that enables him or her to direct the audio, video, and camera equipment during the class. In short, the instructor manages the studio environment, much as he or she would manage a traditional classroom. EDS tested the idea for a year before it built the software systems, so it knew the studio environment would provide the control instructors wanted.

Today, EDS offers 30 to 35 programs a month through IDLN. That requires a dedicated staff of five video producers who produce both live instruction and video, two graphic artists, one scheduling coordinator, one project coordinator, two programmers, and a supervisor. Some courses also require a camera operator, but others do not because instructors can manipulate computer-operated cameras. …

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