An Introduction to Distance and Distributed
In today's fast-paced and ever-changing
business environment, corporations realize they must use technology
as a competitive advantage to stay ahead of their rivals. Technology
has become a critical, strategic weapon in survival, and using
technology for training to supplant traditional - and costlier
- instructor-led classes makes good business sense. Technology
applied to training, or distance learning, is able to offer convenience,
ease of use, and on-demand service. It is estimated that corporate
universities will provide 50 percent of their training by technology
in the first year of the millennium.
Just like any other business venture, distance
learning is increasingly being viewed by companies as an investment
that needs to be thoughtfully planned. Successful corporate distance
programs have two features in common: first, they look at the
big picture by clearly mapping out and budgeting all the resources
and technology before they start, and make sure they have the
right budget approval for every phase. Second, these companies
realize that their distance program is comprised of a number
of key elements, and that achieving a successful distance learning
curriculum requires an in-depth understanding of all the elements
involved, how they fit together, and integrating all the elements
into easy-to-use programs.
Let's examine the five essential elements
used in successful Distance Learning programs: content, media, infrastructure,
management, and people.
corporations first need to consider
who are the intended users and what is the content that needs
to be presented. The needs of the people being trained, and the
training to be delivered, drive the technology, not the other
The most successful corporate training
programs take a look at what has to be done, for whom, and then
search out the right technology to do it. After the program objectives
and content has been defined, they need to be integrated and
placed in one, but more likely multiple, media formats for delivery.
The next choice businesses make is what media - or combination
of media - will best support their users and the curriculum.
Does the curriculum require video, for instance, to view a delicate
operation? Is a talking head really necessary to explain a new
product to clients? Often a hybrid solution is the best. Perhaps
the company announcement of a new technology can be done via
satellite or high quality video. The technical training that
accompanies this can be delivered by CBT, shipped by FedEx or
across the internet.
At this point, the organization must balance
the needs of the users with the technology that is available
to them, or allocate the appropriate funding to buy new technology.
Discovering at the last minute you can't afford streaming video
after the curriculum is finished from video is not a good experience.
Once the curriculum is mapped to the right media elements, it
then needs to be distributed.
infrastructure pertains to how
the training will be deployed or delivered to the user. It is
important to fit the right distribution vehicle with the right
distance learning application. What is needed to support the
media, content, and users ? Some companies base their decision
to deploy purely on the technology that is already available.
For instance, if a company uses satellite for training, this
is appropriate for classroom style training. However, if the
distance learning program requires a 7 by 24, on-demand training,
an internet/intranet distribution may be a better solution.
Once the infrastructure has been deployed
to support the chosen curriculum and media, the resulting program
will have to be managed.
The company needs to consider how the program will be managed.
The big payoff of distance learning is the ability to train thousands
of people economically. Without proper management systems, the
distance learning manager will be flooded with e-mail and phone
messages to return. Registration, evaluation, and tracking systems
need to fit the needs of the program. Users need to be tracked
and evaluated; curriculum developers need their courses evaluated;
and administrators need students to be tested.
Managing distance learning applications
depends on how much a business can automate along with how comprehensive
the automation is.
Successful corporations Insure
that the entire program runs smoothly by requiring everyone involved
with the details of running, participating and maintaining a
distance learning program - Instructors, users, I/S personnel
- to be trained.
A final thought: it may be human nature,
but there always seems to be a strong impulse to "wing it"
in building anything. Fight the urge. According to the most successful
corporate distance programs, there are two critical success factors
to consider: first, distance learning is a complex solution that
requires a structured method to build and maintain; and second,
problems and hurdles are a part of building any application but
there are fewer if one plans and anticipates. Also, they claim,
it saves wear-and-tear if you work with someone who has already
experienced the obstacles and can offer creative solutions.
Magazine, August 9, 1999, by Joanne Carle-Accornero