SAN MATEO (07/24/2000) - Thanks to the constant influx of new technologies and new information, training the corporate workforce has never been more critical or more expensive. With training costs skyrocketing, corporate managers are wise to consider stretching their training dollars by implementing Web-based training solutions.
Online training not only reduces the travel costs associated with training and the loss of productivity associated with employee travel, it also gives workers more flexibility as to when they participate in training and allows individual instructors to reach more students, lowering per student training costs.
Furthermore, companies gain more control over course content by building training content in-house and selecting from third-party courses they can preview over the Web.
Online training saves time and money, but implementing it costs time and money.
To get the best e-learning value, corporations should choose a training system that will function within the existing hardware and software infrastructure, support self-paced and collaborative training, work with standard third-party training courses, and require a minimum of training for administrators, course developers, instructors, and students. Lotus Development Corp.'s LearningSpace 4.0 meets all of these objectives, making it a very good choice for a corporate training platform.
LearningSpace not only provides everything you need to create, deliver, and manage self-paced online courses, but unlike competing products, it also supports live, instructor-led training that leverages application sharing, whiteboards, chat, audio, and video. By making online training more compelling, LearningSpace helps ensure that managers and employees will actually use it, safeguarding the company's investment.
After a number of disappointing experiences with LearningSpace 3.0, I expected to be disappointed by LearningSpace 4.0. Instead I found this release to be an immense improvement over the previous version. To my surprise, Lotus has unhitched LearningSpace's core functionality from Lotus Domino Server and placed it into database management systems such as Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2, and Oracle, easing setup and administration for non-Domino shops.
Another advantage is that instead of using the Domino Web server for the Collaboration module, LearningSpace uses the Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) for a much faster Web interface. Finally, administering and using LearningSpace is straightforward. Administrators do not require any knowledge of programming to generate course assessments or reports of the student progress. Administrators, course developers, instructors, and students alike use only their Web browsers as their interface to LearningSpace.
LearningSpace 4.0 is available in two modules that can be combined to work together. The LearningSpace Core module includes all the tools needed to create, deliver, and manage self-paced courses, including off-the-shelf courses from third-party vendors. The LearningSpace Collaboration module stirs collaborative learning into the mix, providing (through an included Lotus Domino Server) the ability to conduct asynchronous instructor-led training via threaded discussions and real-time, instructor-led training via live virtual classrooms.
Installing LearningSpace 4.0 is a simple process, and all necessary software is included with the two modules. Both modules run only on Windows NT 4 Server.
Although the Core module allows you to use a Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2, Oracle, and other non-Domino/ Notes products, the Collaboration module requires Domino Server for real-time classes.
But administrators of the Collaboration module do not require Domino expertise.
When I loaded the Collaboration module, it automatically built a Lotus Domino Server and walked me through the normal administrative difficulties. There was no hint I was even working with Domino.
Hardware requirements are reasonable: both modules worked well on my no-name server with 512MB of RAM. Both the Core component and the Collaboration component will scale to multiple servers.
After the installation, an administrative assistant can use either Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer to perform the administrative tasks; creating each user takes about five minutes. In total, to install both the Core and Collaboration modules took me about one hour. On the client side, no installation is required except for a brief, one-time-only download of a plug-in necessary to participate in real-time training using the Collaboration module.
Core and collaborative learning
LearningSpace Core is a stand-alone component that provides the tools to build and administer self-paced courses and track student activities. I found it straightforward to create course developers, instructors, and students. I could also easily import user information from a comma-delimited text file. And because Core does not use Domino but rather SQL, DB2, or Oracle for the course and user information data store, it provides a highly responsive interface to the end-user.
Creating courses is also easy. Instructors can insert Microsoft PowerPoint slides, include essay as well as true/false and multiple-choice questions, and create libraries of Web links and information.
Unfortunately, LearningSpace Core lacks wizards to aid in creating material.
Drag-and-drop functionality also would have been helpful. Nevertheless, building a simple Web-based training course that would use 20 pre-built Microsoft PowerPoint slides along with an existing 25-question exam, including 15 multiple choice, five keyword, and five essay questions, would take about 2 hours.
LearningSpace Core does allow course authors to incorporate courses built with products such as Authorware and ToolBook II, and they can import course material from desktop applications such as Microsoft Office and IBM SmartSuite.
One of the best things about LearningSpace 4.0 is the capability to use learning content built to the AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-based Training Committee) standard. This is truly a boon to companies because they can expand their course libraries by purchasing high quality, off-the-shelf AICC-compliant courses for HR, sales, management, IT, and many other types of training from vendors such as IBM, SmartForce, and NETg.
AICC support also means that LearningSpace can track the progress of students as they work through third-party courses offered via the Internet, as long as those courses are compliant with the AICC standard.
The Collaboration component, which is compliant with the H.323 and T.120 collaboration standards for voice and video, allows instructors and students to exchange voice or text messages and share applications and whiteboards in live virtual classrooms. Based on Lotus' online conferencing system, SameTime, LearningSpace Collaboration creates a sense of community among online students.
Examination of the Collaboration component revealed discussion databases and a real-time classroom that allows the use of video and audio. Instructors who will use the Collaborative component may require a brief 4-hour instructor-led training session.
In the discussion databases, which are nonreal-time chat rooms, the instructor or students, using a Web browser, would post a primary topic, with students inputting their responses to the topic. Using the online classroom, both instructors and students can interact with applications, students being allowed to take over as the instructor permits.
Corporations looking for a complete, highly scalable online training solution should take a close look at LearningSpace 4.0. Its support of live training and AICC-compliant courses should make it a hit with instructors and students, and support for Windows NT and common database systems should lighten the burden on IT.
Sam Stokes is a Microsoft Certified Instructor in Development Languages and Lotus Notes at Infotec (www.infotec.com). He has been working as a programming engineer for 30 years.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
Business Case: This complete Web-based training solution not only promises to lower training costs but eases implementation through support of commonly available database systems, high scalability, and support for third-party courseware.
Technology Case: LearningSpace 4.0 includes everything required to prepare, deliver, and manage online courses. Unlike competing products, it supports live, instructor-led, online training as well as self-paced and asynchronous training.
+ Supports full range of Web-based training options+ Can be used with AICC-compliant third-party training content+ No programming skills required for administration+ Minimal user learning curveCons:
- No centralized tracking of outside coursework- Lack of wizards for creation of tests- ExpensiveCost: Core: $36 per user; Collaboration (includes Core): $50 per userPlatform(s): Windows NT 4.0 Server with Windows Option Pack 4Lotus Development, Cambridge, Mass.; (617) 577-8500; www.lotus.com/learningspace.