Online and on demand

IT's many names and methods - from CBT (computer-based training) to e-learning produce a teaching tool that's getting more interactive and dynamic. Online training is evolving - getting more interactive and more diverse in its uses for training, testing and group work. Because it can deliver a broad range of information - from skills to product and service details - to a variety of people, when they want it, e-learning is not only an educational asset, but can cut time and travel-associated costs.

In a 'get 'em young and train 'em' approach, Oracle has started a free, online education initiative for primary and secondary students, which more than 560 schools have adopted so far.

Called Think.com, the offering gives students aged seven to 14 and their teachers a global forum for sharing ideas, creating personal Web pages and collaborating on group projects.

Students are given the tools and space to create and share their work online, while teachers are provided with the infrastructure to post lessons and homework using visually stimulating tools such as multimedia video images with audio stream.

Oracle manages the hosted Think.com environment and absorbs 100 percent of the costs as part of its program to bring technology into classrooms worldwide, with the launch of Think.com coming at a time when the federal government had completed the rollout of its National Quality Schooling Framework (NQSF) initiative to help implement innovative and evidence-based projects to improve student learning outcomes in schools.

Brian Roberts, principal at Christian Brothers High School in Lewisham - an inner western suburb of Sydney, says Think.com is an example of technology's ability to improve teaching outcomes, with 405 students and teachers at the school using the program.

"Technology now plays a central role in student education, a factor driven by the students themselves who are becoming increasingly IT-savvy through the everyday use of technology," Roberts said.

"By using new technologies like Think.com we are able to offer our students the best, most innovative education possible to help prepare them for the future."

Computer-based teaching software provider Danware says traditional e-learning is moving forward and is creating new offerings to keep up. Its recently released NetOp School 4.0 is a tool for all classrooms to let teachers monitor and control student PCs in a computer-equipped environment. Teachers can simultaneously see multiple students' screens as thumbnail images on a single screen, as well as monitor and control students individually in real time.

The vendor has extended the range with an add-on module called NetOp School Class Server which supports connectivity in large educational networks. Teachers and students on the move can connect to a central database from different parts of the network via laptops.

NetOp School product manager Ole Haag says the company now offers features to cover the full teaching cycle - prepare, teach and evaluate. We're enabling teachers to easily create and perform online tests, and the server makes it easy to manage groups of classrooms, Haag said. E-learning organization Whizlabs is also tweaking its e-learning offerings, breaking into the Australian market by partnering with IT technical and e-learning solution provider ITIQ Plus in the Australian and New Zealand market.

Demonstrating another way in which e-learning solutions are being used, the recruitment and contracting services industry is using the vendor's training software to carry out online candidate testing, benchmarking applicants and short-listing the best before interviewing.

Whizlabs manager of corporate sales Alok Mittal claims that contracting specialists find that using Whizlabs IT Skills testing encourages and promotes a learning culture throughout their team of professional contractors, setting standards, measuring individual skill-set growth over a period of time.

"The association with ITIQ Plus will help us meet the requirements of quality and reliable online tests for pre-employment testing and employee evaluation for HR departments and contracting and recruitment consultants in the ANZ market," Mittal said.

Meanwhile, Accenture Learning is ramping up its offerings with e-learning forming a central part of the company's service.

The company delivers more than 14 million hours of training to more than 1 million people globally each year and recently launched a learning centre in Brisbane to provide training services to Australian and overseas organizations.

The Brisbane facility is one of five Accenture learning services centres worldwide, developing and delivering learning skills and services to clients. Services include content development, the creation of tailored e-learning solutions and the design of employee certification and accreditation schemes. Richard Clarke, managing director of Accenture Learning, said the centre aims to provide cost-effective, high-quality learning products to its clients. "We do enterprise learning outsourcing, and provide all types of content and also a lot of training for things like system implementations," Clarke said. "The centre was established initially to service the ATO, which is carrying out a huge system implementation over the next four years.

"Since then we have added more clients - a government department, an Asian bank, so as you can see, it's a mixture of the public and private sector."

Clarke said there is a growing interest in learning outsourcing, but there are few options in Australia for organizations requiring this sort of service. "The market in Australia is fragmented, and few vendors can provide end-to-end training services. But there are a lot of boutique players that offer content development," Clarke said.

"A key differentiator about Accenture learning is that we link all our training and development with business objectives, so that's a big part of our focus."

And while e-learning plays a big part in the training resources Accenture provides, it's not the be-all and end-all.

"E-learning is an important lever in terms of reducing costs, but there are other options that companies should consider," Clarke said.

Despite Accenture pushing the benefits of these sorts of services, a recent study by the Cape Group has shown that Asia-Pacific organizations are yet to embrace comprehensive, outsourced learning solutions.

The research showed companies are willing to outsource a combination of technology, content and helpdesk services, but not fully.

Cape Group director Dion Groeneweg said the local region has experienced a limited uptake of fully-managed learning solutions.

"Companies in the Asia-Pacific region don't appear to be realizing the benefits that a more comprehensive solution can offer," Groeneweg said.

Despite revealing that Asia-Pacific-based organizations are currently less inclined to outsource their entire learning function, the research highlights a growing market for learning outsourcing with an inclination towards the 'out-tasking' of specific components of learning.

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