Internet Brings Smart Force to Education

SINGAPORE (04/11/2000) - A change is on the cards in the area of education because of what the Internet can now offer to both education providers and their students.

"The Internet is going to change us (as educators), the way it's changed everyone else," said Paul Henry, vice-president of international operations, SmartForce PLC (formerly CBT Systems), a provider of interactive education software and Internet-based learning. "The Internet can radically improve the teaching process. It can train more people for less. The ability to train a mass audience is driving companies to the online approach."

Although Henry concedes that the bulk of education today is still being carried out in classrooms, he noted analysis by International Data Corp. (IDC), that in four years, the ratio between classroom-based training and that done online is expected to be equal.

"Seventy percent of our corporate customers already deliver training via their corporate intranets," James boasted.

And SmartForce sees its business opportunities growing. Unlike traditionally when it would provide such educational services only to corporate customers that wanted their staff trained, the educator can also now enjoy benefits of the business-to-consumer (B-to-C) education market.

"We can now sell education directly to the IT person," Henry said.

SmartForce does Web-based training at its e-Learning site. One feature of the site is its mentoring facility.

"Mentoring is a bank of experts of the various subjects that we offer, who help students with problems that they have with their lessons. We guarantee a six-hour turnaround from the time students post their queries. Experts give explanations and conduct online lectures."

SmartForce will expand the mentoring service with a Student Chat Forum.

"This is a hosted chat where there's always a mentor online," Henry said.

Although most of the courses offered by SmartForce are IT related, it also conducts some non-IT courses like those on personal improvement and development.

"IT people need to learn business skills too," Henry said.

While SmartForce still does not provide certification that is accredited by academia, developments are already happening, according to Henry.

"There is some change because three years ago, universities wouldn't speak with us, whereas now they're interested in bringing their intellectual property online."

This shift has seen SmartForce working with a number of tertiary institutions including the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore.

SmartForce prices its services on a matrix based on audience size and the number of course titles installed. For individuals, prices range from S$450 (US$260) for an e-business course curriculum, to $2,500 (or $3,200 with online mentoring) for a Microsoft Certified Engineer (MSCE) certification.

For enterprise licenses, prices can range from an average of S$25,000 annually to train up to 50 people in up to 25 subject titles; to an average of $250,000 a year for up to 5,000 people in up to 50 subject titles.

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