Two Approaches to Web-Based Learning

SAN MATEO (07/24/2000) - Corporate training has taken the business world by storm as employers recognize the underlying ROI that can result from a highly trained workforce. And the latest industry buzz in the training world centers around two types of Web-based electronic learning: Web-based live or self-paced learning.

Employees accustomed to a traditional classroom environment with a teacher present and set meeting times will thrive in an instructor-based e-learning environment, such as those courses offered by KnowledgeNet Inc.

But for time-strapped employees who are unable to attend regular classes, a self-paced e-learning course, such as those offered by DigitalNet, would best fit their hectic schedule.

KnowledgeNet

One instructor-led e-learning solution is from KnowledgeNet, a provider of online content and service training solutions. KnowledgeNet's Web-based, instructor-led classes allow students to attend a wide range of IT courses from the comfort of their office or home.

The class I attended was a Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) course, "Implementing Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional and Server." I logged on every Monday and Wednesday afternoon for three hours for three weeks.

At roughly the same cost of attending a traditional classroom course, your employees can attend KnowledgeNet courses online, saving valuable time and costs associated with traveling. Although comparable in cost to traditional courses, KnowledgeNet courses cost approximately $500 more than DigitalThink's canned courses.

However, students who enjoy a structured environment will thrive in an instructor-led online course. And with the convenience of Web-based courses, employees will be much more inclined to sign up for courses, benefiting their company and themselves with their newly acquired knowledge.

I was very impressed with KnowledgeNet's instruction, the use of Web applications, and the support provided from the staff. For these reasons, I gave KnowledgeNet a score of Excellent.

Similar to a real classroom, students and the instructors meet in the virtual world at a predetermined time. The lecture is heard over an 800 number, and the visual content is displayed in the browser (Netscape and Microsoft IE 4.0 and later).

Once students sign up for a class, a package is sent to them that includes the course book. Once I began, I found myself alert and paying attention during the entire class. Afterward, I even reviewed the first two courses I had missed because I signed up late.

The Express button makes reviewing missed material easy; it does a fine job of reviewing the material using animation and a synchronized voice feed.

In addition, KnowledgeNet's labs offer additional training. For example, one lab walked me through an installation of Windows 2000, while another let me take ownership of a folder. Also available is access to the Mentors resource as well as classmates via the chat function.

The comprehensive instruction, great use of the Web for illustration and content delivery, and the support available makes Knowledge-Net's courses not only successful but also enjoyable. If your company recognizes the value that additional training can offer employees and ultimately your bottom line, then I highly recommend enrolling as many of your workers as possible in a KnowledgeNet course.

DigitalThink

If instructor-led training is not the best solution for all of your employees, investigate the other Web-based e-learning options. DigitalThink, a developer of e-learning courses, offers an alternative: canned courses. Course material is prepared and packaged so students can log on to classes whenever it is convenient for them.

I signed up to take three related courses, which together make up the "Essentials of C Programming Series." Each class consisted of 10 modules with six lessons. To complete one module took me approximately one hour.

Employees who frequently travel or have tight time constraints will find canned courses much more suitable to their schedules than instructor-led courses. The flexibility not only shaves traveling expenses but eliminates all but the most serious excuses for not completing a course.

DigitalThink's courses are also less expensive than instructor-led classes, such as those offered by KnowledgeNet. Compared to the $1,595 charge for KnowledgeNet courses, DigitalThink courses range from $99 to $500.

Although DigitalThink satisfied its core job of instructing, the course lacked additional tools and resources, such as a live help function and auxiliary lab.

Also, the delivery of narrated instruction and animated illustrations were weak at best. For these reasons, I gave the courses a score of Good.

Getting started was tough without a live instructor or a comprehensive Help function, as I was confused by the instructions. Another downfall of the product was the use of the Web to deliver content. For example, DigitalThink's use of voice recordings, streamed as Real Audio files, was archaic.

The lack of quality audio aside, DigitalThink's core content was very good. I found it challenging and, at times, engaging.

Included in the program are many resource links intended to enrich the learning experience; however, the only one I found valuable was the Score link. In it, a composite and running score of all the exercises and tests I had taken were tallied. An HR administrator can also access the scores to monitor the work of employees.

Overall, I found the course well assembled and challenging. What's missing is a compelling use of Web technologies that could make the experience more engaging. But DigitalThink courses offer a good avenue for your employees to get quality training at an affordable price.

E-learning offers companies a convenient tool that allows employees to access courses via the Web without the costs and hassles associated with traveling.

Both instructor-led and canned e-learning solutions offer viable solutions for educating a company's workforce.

The more expensive alternative of instructor-led courses, may be just what employees desire. On the other hand, the convenience of self-paced courses, via canned courses, may win over others. For either preference, KnowledgeNet and DigitalThink offer two promising solutions that offer convenience for today's hectic employees and cost savings for corporations.

Senior Editor Steve Jefferson has logged many e-learning hours over the past year and can be reached at steve_jefferson@infoworld.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: GOOD

DigitalThink

Business Case: DigitalThink's canned Web-based courses allow time-pressed employees to access courses at their convenience and is cheaper than instructor-led courses.

Technology Case: Since the courses are Web-based, users need only a Netscape or Microsoft IE 3 and higher browser. No additional support from the IT department is necessary.

Pros:

+ Good presentation of core materials

+ Running scores help students keep track of goals+ Even 28.8 modem is acceptableCons:

- Not enough use of Web apps

- Too much reliance on students to provide materialsCost: Price range: $99 to $500Platform(s): Netscape or Microsoft IE 3 or laterDigitalThink Inc., San Francisco; (415) 625-4000; www.digitalthink.comTHE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENTKnowledgeNetBusiness Case: Instructor-led Web-based courses combine live, interactive classes with the convenience of the Web, at a price comparable to traditional classroom courses. Companies with a highly educated workforce will prosper.

Technology Case: For IT, KnowledgeNet classes are as good as it gets. Students will need a 56.6KBps or higher connection, a Netscape or Microsoft IE 4 or later browser, a phone, and some quiet.

Pros:

+ Top-notch instruction

+ Great use of the Web for content delivery+ Great support services from companyCons:

- Expensive

Cost: Courses range from US$995 to $1,995; Express courses are $1,195Platform(s): Netscape or Microsoft IE 4 and laterKnowledgeNet Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz.; (888) 577-5779 www.knowledgenet.com.

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