Until recently, I was skeptical about web-based training (WBT), associating it with my attempts to learn DOS via computer-based instruction at evening adult school over a decade ago. I took the four-hour course twice and the only thing I learned was to format a disk! The experience left me feeling like a techno-retard and very negative about training via the computer. Now DOS is out and so is formatting disks but technology delivered training is a billion dollar industry. It occurred to me that it was time to take another look at "click and learn."
The first thing I discovered was WBT goes by a number of names: e-learning, multimedia instruction, cyber-learning, distance learning, online learning or technology delivered instruction. Essentially, WBT (aka all of the above) is teaching and learning in an environment where the instructor and students may be separated in time and place, and some form of telecommunications technology is used to deliver at least part of the instruction.
Reputable sources say that 92% of corporate American and over 50% of colleges and universities are into some form of WBT. Most have found that the practical way to approach WBT is to augment rather than substitute for traditional training and education. While WBT has distinct advantages it has some serious limitations--many technical such as having sufficient bandwidth and firewalls.
There is a wide spectrum of WBT designs. Full blown WBT may involve simulations, interactive exercises, screen sharing, feedback, conferencing, video, audio, and online discussion groups. However, there is also an abundance of simple and hybrid forms like PowerPoint presentations delivered via the internet or an intranet. If you are reading this on LLRX, you are having a WBT experience. It has many of the essential characteristics: available 24/7, non-linear, navigable, linked to additional information, delivered via the web, the reader/learner is in control and there is a feedback mechanism. True, LLRX does not meet the requirements of testing, accreditation and is not marketed as training but it has definite WBT building blocks.
You might want to try what I did for a more complete picture of WBT:
- Take a distance learning class. Try http://www.notharvard.com for some that are short, free and fun or do a search with your favorite search engine to find more.
- Attend a seminar offered by companies that provide design and authoring software and point-of-need consulting services. Many of these programs are free such as "Net Results with Online Learning" hosted by Allen Communication. Find the dates and locations at http://www.allencomm.com . I attended the Allen half-day session and found it extremely informative for content and as well as a demonstration of WBT learning.
- Read a distance learning newsletter, such as Elliott Masie's http://www.learningdecisions.com. Remember to find newsletters you will have to use the various permutations of WBT terms mentioned above.
- Explore United States Distance Learning Association at http://www.usdla.org or peruse the distance learning graduate programs at http://distance.gradschools.com .
- Inquire as to what your favorite continuing education provider is offering electronically.
- Invest in William Horton's book Designing Web-Based Training: How to Teach Anyone Anything Anywhere Anytime. The Table of Contents and a Sample Chapter on Testing can be seen at http://www.horton.com and examples, templates, advice, notes, and other goodies for trainers and instructional designers at http://www.wiley.com/compbooks/horton/features. This book is a must. Horton is a paragon of simplicity and practicality. Look at how he epitomizes 50,000 years of instructional design.
1. Show them
2. Tell them
3. Let them try
If this doesn't work, change the order of steps until you find a combination that works.
WBT appears to have many benefits. It is seems more focused than instructor-led classes. I like being able to go directly to the material that is new to me and being my own navigator. The really exciting part of WBT is that it is possible to reach out and teach in new and novel ways that otherwise might never happen. Several examples of innovative training applications are:
- Childrens Hospital (no apostrophe) in Los Angeles has contracted with a multimedia company to produce an orientation program for families of children with acquired brain injuries. It will be distributed in a CD-Rom format to rehabilitation units, intensive care units, family support groups and families nationwide. The idea is that with the video, graphics and web links, the child's family will become a more effect member of the care-giving team. (This would work well in any kind of environment involving a multi-disciplinary team of people who do not normally work together.)
- Organizations can reinforce, transmit and evolve their corporate culture via WBT via a variety of learning events. New hire orientation programs are a prime example. They can be created and delivered where the logistics of the classroom experience would be too difficult or expensive. Think about how summer associate orientation might be distributed before the first day on the job via intranet technology.
- When I purchased a new car recently, it came with a hybrid training package: video, Web site, manuals, guided tour, and point-of-use diagrams. Multimedia was far better than just handing me the keys.
Using WBT does not mean that instructor-led learning is obsolete. There remain many learning situations where technology-delivered instruction is not effective nor appropriate. Some re-tooling is required of instructors since technology-delivered instruction requires different designs than instructor-led instruction but there are excellent software packages and many experienced consultants to guide instructors in making the conversion.
All in all, I came away from my WBT explorations with a hunch that "click and learn" is here to stay and that it can make training a matter of Just in Time, Just for Me and Just Enough.