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Online Learning News – 27 March issue


A news and idea service of Bill Communications Inc. (Lakewood)
Tuesday, Mar. 28, 2000 Vol. 3, No. 1


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1. You vs. portals
2. Speed: Doing without
3. Napster is morphing already
4. Where to put those computers
5. Executive squirming
6. Cries for help: English, please?


The emergence of learning portals has this dire meaning: If
operations managers don't like the way you train their people,
they can go book their own training through a portal.

Some are already doing so, according to Brandon Hall, a Sunnyvale,
CA, e-learning researcher and editor of Technology for Learning
Newsletter (

Learning portals are currently in a race to outpace one another at
offering the most courses, Hall told 75 attendees Monday at the
International Quality & Productivity Center's Chicago conference
on learning portals.

But watch for a competitive shift -- soon portals' rivalry will
focus on providing better learning management, Hall predicted.

Learning portals are Internet sites with courses available for
immediate purchase and use. Among them: Click2Learn, eMind,
GeoLearning, Headlight, Hungryminds, KnowledgePlanet, SmartPlanet,
and Trainingnet.

Participants, in response to Hall's question, listed these
advantages of learning portals: flexibility, access, and ease of
maintenance -- "somebody else has to fix it," quipped one


Portal disadvantages participants listed included spotty
technical and instructor support, little incentive for learners to
finish courses, the temptation to push training into employee time
off, and a "U.S.-centric" focus that ignores Europe and the rest of
the world.

Participants nevertheless said they're drawn to learning portals
because of challenges such as geographically dispersed work
groups, the need for just-in-time training, and the prospect of
savings with online delivery.

To demonstrate those savings and prove effectiveness, Hall said,
learning portals will soon focus more on learning-management
capabilities: tracking, assessing, and identifying skills gaps for
individual users, suggesting courses to close those gaps, and
recording performance after training.

At the same time, however, the training playing field is shifting
underfoot: A participant noted that her organization is
constructing a one-stop content database that will include
online training -- but will have other content as well.

Can a learning-management system, on a portal or elsewhere, track
learners who use that kind training-and-information resource?

Yes, said Hall -- but only with still another shift in the training
business: Learning-management and knowledge-management systems will
begin to merge into a single entity in the coming 18 months.



Does speed matter to e-learning? Yes. Of course. Absolutely, say

"The last thing you want is the technology getting in the way of
the learning," frets Steve Franks ( [email protected] ). "If
the courseware loads slowly, learners are turned off -- not just
to that course, but to the entire concept of e-learning."

Given limits to connection and processor speed, can you make
e-learning run faster?

Here's how Franks, technology consultant with Allstate Insurance Co.
in Northbrook, IL, prepared for an enterprise-wide e-learning system
that went live Jan. 1 to users on both T1 and 56-kbs connections:

"Rigorous network-capacity evaluations ahead of time helped us
determine what types of servers are needed, and discover hidden
network issues," says Franks.

"These evaluations also gave us an idea of which groups of users
will be able to use the system."


Start slowly. Protect your speed capabilities by phasing in
e-delivery, says Franks. "Everyone who sees your product will want
it," he cautions, "and the temptation will be there to let them
all have it, which creates problems.

"If you grant too many users access at any one time, you will
probably run into server-load issues or network-capacity

Start with users who have the greatest business need, and monitor
how the system works. If courses run as they should, let another
business unit on.

E-learning can work even with slow processors and slow
connections, says Franks. Evaluate user platforms and buy
e-learning the slowest can run.

Vendors offer courses that adapt, Franks notes. A course designed
for a T1 line can run on a 56-kbs modem by eliminating video, for

Some other considerations:

o Peter Vlahiotis ( [email protected] ), training
manager at ATS Automation Tooling Systems in Cambridge,
Ontario, suggests you can "keep the pace upbeat" for slow
connections and slow user computers. Limit yourself to
line art and text. "Photographs and video clips," Vlahiotis
warns, "will bog things down."

o Optimize processor speed -- how fast a user's computer runs --
with software tools such as Snagit, which allows screen
captures that minimize graphics' use of memory, adds

o If you must use photos -- crush 'em. Use JPEGs (a Web photo
format) instead of bitmaps. Says Vlahiotis: "We typically
convert and compress every graphic that comes anywhere near
the training department."

o If you can't use a T1 line for video, Eduardo Rivera
( [email protected] ), visiting professor in computer-
information services at Texas A&M International University in
Laredo, points to an alternative. Learners can link to the
Internet via modem for viewing Web pages and discussion,
while they view video via satellite on a separate monitor.



Speed has this drawback: Some fast connections can leave you
vulnerable to hacker attack.

"When logged onto the Internet with a DSL line, and similarly
with a cable modem, you are ON the Internet, says Dave Felt
( [email protected] ), "and anybody in the world may be able to
get at your computer through this connection."

Felt, system administrator at the California Institute of
Technology Graphics Lab in Pasadena, says a friend of his had a
cable modem installed, "only to come home one afternoon to find
the hard disk activity light blinking away. His computer had been

Felt suggests cable-modem and DSL users consider firewall
software. Some DSL modems or routers have a form of firewall
built-in, others do not, he says.

Check http://www.grc.comfor its ShieldsUP service to examine your
connection. "You may be unpleasantly surprised," says Felt, "to
find out that your machine is indeed open to the world."

Firewall software is "reasonably easy" to install," says Felt. A
Web search will turn up names including BlackIce and ZoneAlert.
Prices range from freeware to an annual subscription fee.


As you mulled its meaning for training, Napster persisted in the
news last week.

For one thing, Napster Inc. of San Mateo, CA, is working with
colleges to unclog the campus networks its music-sharing software
has snarled.

Napster is free software that searches the hard drives of other
Napster-equipped computers for music files in MP3 format (a Web
audio-compression standard).

That means Napster is a big hit with audiophile college students
cruising for tunes. But it's a throbbing headache for campus
network administrators and for the music industry, which wants people
to pay for music.

We asked you to rise above the fray and consider the Web-based
search-and-share idea for training and knowledge management.
Here's what you thought:

The Napster concept "points to a huge opportunity in
e-learning," says Josh Bersin ( [email protected] ),
marketing vice president with Arista Knowledge Systems Inc.
( of Alameda, CA.

Arista says it has a Napster-like concept in a product it calls
Accredix Content Manager: "a content-neutral, customizable way to
find learning content related to a specific subject," says Bersin.

Accredix lets users "group and locate related content during the
learning process," says Bersin, "so if I'm a sales rep learning
about how to call on the chief financial officer, I will see an
annual report, a sales video, some training tips, as well as a
course on executive selling -- all of which could be located
on sites throughout the Web."


Some of you voiced caution, however. Vendor William Vanderbilt
( [email protected] ) asks: "How do you identify
exactly what piece of information you need when you need it?"

Those seeking training or information "don't know what they don't
know," observes Vanderbilt, chief technology officer and
director of training with the Beacon Institute for Learning in
Plantation, FL.

"If they are not able to identify exactly what clips to listen to
or what information to seek, they end up getting a lot of
information that is not what they are seeking."

Some of you are nervous about security. Does a Napster-like
application let others rifle your files? Could it let others track
the sites you've visited -- including sex sites?

The Napster concept has other flaws for knowledge-sharing as well.
James Card ( [email protected] ), partner in Advanteq LLC
( of Bloomington, IN, says his
organization -- and many others -- rely on a secure central
repository and not a Napster-like program for these reasons:

o An effective knowledge base should be available at all hours.
Napster only allows access to files belonging to those
presently logged onto the system.

o Napster lets you search for files by file name only. "This
works well for MP3 files, since the data contained in the file
is sufficiently described by the file name," says Card. "When
considering organization-wide shareware solutions, I want to
be able to search not only the file name, but also the file


Duly noted, but stay tuned. CNET reported last week that "a
Napster hack" now allows free distribution of software and movies.
The program, called "Wrapster," transforms Napster from a music-
exchange network "into a full-blown online swap meet capable of
trading videos and software," says CNET.

Moreover, the phenomenon is spreading: A program dubbed iMesh lets
people swap music, video and other multimedia files.



Where do you install computers for online learning? Near the work
area, for convenience? Or well away from the job, so trainees can
leave work behind and focus on learning?

Before you decide, ask yourself one thing, says Matthew Singerman
( [email protected] ) in response to that reader question:

Do your workers need training? Or do they need performance

"Going to another location for the training may help your
employees disengage from the distractions of the daily grind,"
explains Singerman, an instructional project manager at Brigham
Young University in Provo, UT. "The change of scenery may help
them shift into learning mode."

On the other hand, Singerman adds: "Learning often occurs most
naturally in the context of work where learners can try out what
they are learning."

Enter the concept of performance support. "The whole notion of
electronic performance support suggests that employees can perform
better when they have convenient access to just-in-time
information and instruction," says Singerman.

Singerman concludes with a caution: "In the end, management
expectation and accountability may influence frequency of usage
much more than the location of the PCs," he warns.

"If management doesn't reward use, or if they continue to maintain
conflicting expectations -- location will be irrelevant."



When training isn't the answer, how can you convince management to
consider other interventions?

Try an executive squirming session, suggests Dana Gaines Robinson,
president of Pittsburgh performance-solutions firm Partners in
Change Inc.

Convene influential leaders for a pointed overview of how
best-in-class performance-consulting and training groups work.

More from Robinson is at
Click on Training Directors' Forum Newsletter Online.

OLL NEWS ADDS: How a Fortune 500 telecommunications
company used performance technology to boost innovation and
cut its product-failure rate is the subject of a session at
Training Directors' Forum Conference in Phoenix in June.

IBM's Tony O'Driscoll will lead the June 4 pre-conference
workshop, "Enabling Knowledge Management Via Electronic
Performance Support."

More is at



Readers, can you guide your peers on these questions?
ENGLISH, PLEASE? "At my current assignment we have
successfully used Centra'99 to present technical training over the
Web. We currently have a need to present a virtual class to non-
English speaking students.

"Has anyone had any experience using a translator as a
co-presenter or leader? Any other experiences that might help in
using a foreign-language translation in a virtual class would

MOVING ONLINE? "Our organization would like to add
online learning to our training initiative. I would like to know
of companies, universities, etc., that provide online learning. We
are most interested in management, safety, computer courses,
customer service, and EQ courses."

COURSE TEMPLATES? "Are there any templates or models or software
that can be used as the structure for online courses?"

TEST SUGGESTIONS? "I need suggestions for a five- to
15-item survey (or other pre- and post-test) for administrative-
support personnel just entering a program of experiential learning
designed to develop proficiency in using Internet resources to
assist them in accomplishing their work."

UP IN THE AIR? "We use Centra to provide both live
e-training and recorded presentations and demos to our worldwide
field organization. Members of our target audience often have time
available for learning when they are not able to dial into our
network (for example, when they're on an airplane). We'd like to
record a training event once, and make it available both via our
intranet and via stand-alone CD-ROMs. Any suggestions?"

OLL NEWS READERS: Can you offer guidance? Please send your
response to [email protected] .

Very important: Include your name, title, phone number,
organization, its location, and what it does.

Also important: Please use the appropriate subject line, e.g.
Up In The Air.


Your colleagues may have some ideas for your online
learning-related quandary. Please send your question to
[email protected] . Include a distinctive subject line.


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