Training Featured

10:09am EDT July 22, 2002

Training

Say "goodbye" to traditional tech.

By Diana McGonigal

Computer-based training and the days of in-house corporate training centers will soon go the way of eight-tracks and leisure suits. This while the need increases for specialized technology-based training not only to remain competitive in a global marketplace but to retain skilled employees.

Lyle Barton, associate dean of Kent State University's learning-technology services division, heads a group called Kent Infoworks. The group was commissioned by the university to do custom business training on a contractual basis.

Kent Infoworks is based, along with the cutting-edge technology of the distance-learning program, in Moulton Hall-ironically one of the university's oldest surviving buildings.

Barton says he sees asynchronous, World Wide Web-based training quickly replacing the CD-ROM technology commonly used today.

The Web-based concept allows employees access to training programs "anywhere, anytime," he says.

"When training material stored on a CD-ROM becomes obsolete, the CD may as well be a Frisbee," Barton notes. "But with Web-based training, we can modify the information and deliver it to everyone quickly and inexpensively."

Employees who travel can already access training information via the Web from their hotel rooms, from home or elsewhere at any time they find it convenient.

Kent State's Dennis Ulrich, director of the executive development programs at the graduate school of management, says he sees this as a key reason for companies to steer away from developing in-house corporate training facilities.

"Distance-learning technology will force the old days of onsite training to pass us by," Ulrich says. "Technology is changing the face of learning, both at the university and in business. It allows for independent study and convenience for the customer."

If a live instructor is desired, Ulrich says a training session could take place at a corporate headquarters and be simultaneously "beamed" to other locations.

Barton says he perceives likely applications in the near future such as posting updated Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, health benefits and automating business processes.

Cost may be a concern now to very small businesses, but with the rate of pricing and technology, that will change within just a couple of years.

The corporate and community services office at Kent State's Stark Campus found cost to be a major obstacle for small businesses that wished to provide training to their employees. As a result, it applied for and received grants from the Ohio Department of Development and the Ohio Board of Regents.

After a survey of businesses operating in Stark County with fewer than 250 employees, the group developed four-hour training programs and offered them for about $25. Kent Stark is looking to expand this program in the future.

"Many of the challenges businesses face now is trying to integrate separate systems," Barton says. "When human resources needs to swap data with the manufacturing division, it doesn't necessarily work very well. We're finding ways to integrate information for business managers and employees."

But individual business will have to become "standards based" if that information is going to be put to use.