ONLINE LEARNING NEWS
A news and idea service of VNU Business Media
Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2000 Vol. 3, No. 24
Spark knowledge in your employees.
Element K, the knowledge catalyst.
1. When live e-learners tune out
2. A site on accessible Web design
3. Are free ISPs worth it?
4. Web simulcasts with satellite video
5. Finish e-mods? Yes!
6. E-learning office hours
7. Cries for help: One-size-fits-all evaluation?
8. London proposals?
1. WHEN LIVE E-LEARNERS TUNE OUT
How do you keep live e-learners from tuning out during
your synchronous session?
If learners' attention is wandering, the problem may be
distraction at their desktops, says Jennifer Hofmann
( [email protected] ).
Hofmann, a virtual-classroom designer with InSync
Training Synergy LLC of Essex, CT, is responding to a
reader who seeks a collaboration tool that "effectively
emulates live training."
A special concern of this reader: "I fear our students
tune out fairly quickly for lack of interesting
Hofmann's advice: Keep activities well-structured and
short. Make sure the expected outcomes of each exercise
are clear prior to its initiation, and that the outcomes
are recognized at their completion.
Group-breakout activities might be as long as 20 minutes
-- but monitor groups to make sure they stay on track.
Icebreakers and games work -- as long as they engage
If distractions are the problem, what can you do?
The ideal learning environment has these components,
o Private, sound-proof room with a high-speed Internet
connection and a telephone. "If you don’t have
this," says Hofmann, "you need the rest."
o "Do Not Disturb" sign that others take seriously.
o Computer less than two years old.
o High-quality microphone headset with earphones,
or good free-standing speakers and mic.
o Access to live technical support.
If your cubicle is in a high-traffic area:
o Tell co-workers you will be in a class.
o Post a sign indicating when class will be over.
o Use a headset.
o Don't respond to people signaling for attention.
o Turn off the telephone ringer.
o Turn off your pager and cell phone.
o Turn off your e-mail alert.
o Remove other tasks from your desk surface.
Here's still another tune-out factor: They're just not
getting it, so they drift away.
How can a remote instructor tell whether they're getting
it? Hofmann says:
o Watch feedback from tools built into the virtual
classroom, such as the Yes/No/Handraise feature
and private chat notes to instructors. From time
to time, remind participants of these these tools.
o How long does it take for the group to provide
feedback and answer polls? If it is taking too
long, they are probably not paying close attention.
o "Are people participating? Raising their hands?
Sending chat messages?" asks Hofmann. "If not, they
may have tuned out."
o Take a break. "If the facilitator is tired and
dragging," says Hofmann, "chances are the
participants are in worse shape."
A facilitator who talks "without any engagement for more
than five minutes," Hofmann concludes, "has been talking
TO LEARN MORE
Sessions at OnLine Learning 2000 in Denver Sept. 24-27
that cover e-learner involvement include:
o "Live Online Learning: Get on the SyncTrain!,"
with Hofmann, Sept. 25.
o "Tell Me Where it Hurts: Implementing Voice
Interactive Learning Over the Internet," with
Robert Jackson, director of continuing education,
University of Tennessee, Sept. 25.
o "Designing and Implementing the e-Learning
Architectures," with consultant John Moxley,
o "The Whys and Hows of Building an Online
Community," with Randy Robinson and Jill
Podolsky of Pensare Inc., Sept. 26.
o "Pedagogical Tools of the Trade: Developing
Online Courses with a Focus on Learning," with
Curt Bonk of Indiana University and Vanessa Dennen
of the University at Buffalo (NY), Sept. 27.
Go to http://www.onlinelearning2000.comfor more about
2. A SITE ON ACCESSIBLE WEB DESIGN
Design your Web pages to be generic, so all browsers can
read them -- including browsers of visually impaired
That was the suggestion last week ("Screen resolution:
Yes," Aug. 29).
But how do you design generic pages?
This site helps you create accessible Web pages, says
George Lessard ( [email protected] ), a media specialist with
the Government of Nunavut's Department of Education in
Arviat, Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic.
Administrator of the site is the Center for Applied
Special Technology, a not-for-profit organization that
tries to "expand opportunities for people with
disabilities through innovative uses of computer
3. ARE FREE I.S.P.s WORTH IT?
Are there free Internet service-providers?
Yes, and you like them -- but you also express some
cautions about using free ISPs for e-learning.
The sites you suggest in response to the reader question
about free ISPs include:
Clayton DeKorne ( [email protected] ) has used
BlueLight.com. "You have to have an ISP connection to
download it onto your machine," says DeKorne, a
Web-learning developer in Brooklyn, NY.
"I use it mostly when traveling because my regular
paying ISP doesn't extend beyond the Northeast," DeKorne
"BlueLight has always worked well in a range
of cities across the U.S. The catch is you have to
look at small banner ads. But then, who doesn't when
you're on the Web?"
Would BlueLight.com work for cheap, full-time access?
"If you just want e-mail and Web access, it's probably
fine," says DeKorne.
But don't depend on free ISP service for e-learning, he
cautions. "Plan and budget for Web-hosting services so
you can FTP to your own site," DeKorne urges.
Michael Thomas ( [email protected] ) has also used
"Each time you log on to the free ISP service, you
briefly watch a video ad while the computer is dialing,"
says Thomas, an information-technology architect with IBM
Corp.'s Mindspan unit in Atlanta.
That's not a problem for him. "I actually enjoyed the
short commercials," says Thomas.
One more bit of perspective: An International Data Corp.
study issued last month was critical of free ISPs.
IDC, a Framingham, MA, research firm, said that "with
few exceptions, free ISPs have a long way to go to meet
even the low expectations of U.S. ISP consumers."
A CNET.com news report of the study cited "high costs
for acquiring subscribers, massive turnover and ongoing
questions about consumer tolerance for advertising, which
typically pays the bills on such services."
Nevertheless, lower-income Web users could more than
triple the market for free Internet-access services by
2005, said another August study from Strategis Group.
The second report predicts that free-ISP customers will
comprise 23% of all residential Internet users by 2005
-- 37 million users compared with 12 million now.
4. WEB SIMULCASTS: STREAMING AND SATELLITE?
Can you offer streaming-video Web simulcasts of
Yes -- just make sure that Web participants can see the
board as the instructor scrawls notes, says Melissa Marsh
( [email protected] )
She responds to a question from a government-agency
reader who has "a rather successful interactive-TV
training program" including a satellite network.
The government-agency reader wondered about "adding
streaming video on the Web for those who can't receive
our TV signal."
Marsh is a trainer and multimedia developer with
Datastream Systems Inc., a Greenville, SC,
She uses a RealMedia server and RealProducer from
RealNetworks Inc. of Seattle. RealProducer is software
that puts audio and video on the Web.
Marsh's results: Participants can hear the instructor,
but "a lot of times they cannot see what he is writing on
the board, or displaying on the Proxima," says Marsh. (A
Proxima is a projector from Proxima Corp. of San Diego.)
Marsh's advice: "I would suggest using a collaborative
tool like WebEx to demonstrate an application and write
things on a board where people can see it."
WebEx Communications Inc. ( http://www.webex.com)
of San Jose, CA, is a Web-conferencing service.
Finally, from vendors:
o 24/7 University Inc. of Irving, TX,
( http://www.247university.com) has Internet
courses in streaming video.
o InfoSource Inc. of Winter Park, FL, offers
"Presentation Skills Using PowerPoint, on CD
or from http://www.howtomaster.com.
5. FINISH THOSE E-MODS
Does it matter if your trainees don't complete
You bet it matters, say two readers. A third points
out that learning-management systems can help with
e-module metrics. A fourth tells how to lure learners
Tim Ritter ( [email protected] ) "respectfully
but completely" disagrees with letting learners go only
as far as they want in an e-course before dropping out
("E-course completion rates -- meaningless?," Aug. 15).
"These seem to be convenient arguments for justifying
online, encyclopedic catalogs of lessons as substitutes
for good training," charges Ritter, lead trainer and
instructor manager with computer trainer CompUSA
Management Co. in St. Louis, MO.
Letting learners browse from e-mod to e-mod also makes
training sound better to "bare budgets," he thinks.
Students already trained in a piece of software may know
how to look up mail merge, Ritter concedes. But such
features "tend to go unknown and ignored" until trainees
find out about them.
NOT A JOB WELL DONE
"Most people can go to Help files and scrape by with
learning what they have to know to get the job done on
their own," says Ritter. "This doesn't usually reflect a
job well done, however.
"Simply getting a single lesson or two, just in time,
may be altogether a waste of time."
Another reader notes that some training funded by the
federal government leading to certification requires that
students complete all of the components of a training
"Without a record of completion, which can be verified
through tracking, certification cannot be awarded,"
warns Jean Dearden ( [email protected] ) of the
Educational Design Unit at the National Labor College
in Silver Spring, MD.
Steve Ernst ( [email protected] ) calls for focus on the
"root cause of this issue" -- "a need for quantifiable
metrics" to track the effectiveness of training and its
bearing on productivity back at work.
Ernst, learning-content manager with Saba Software Inc.
in Denver, offers this solution: Let e-learning tools
themselves capture data on what learners complete. (Saba
makes learning-management systems.)
E-learning can closely customize content for learners,
based on automated pre-assessments, says Ernst. Learners
can then take a post-module assessment to determine if
they mastered a particular skill.
A learning-management system can track the particular
skills and/or knowledge acquired in each module.
A small step, Ernst acknowledges -- "but one that is
readily available to all of us if the content is designed
Finally, Judith Blair ( [email protected] ) thinks
students drop out before finishing because "they believe
they know the material."
Blair, vice president with a training firm called Maresh
Brainworks in Boulder, CO, suggests requiring learners to
test out of subjects they think they know.
TO LEARN MORE
Sessions at OnLine Learning on this subject include:
o "Extreme Course Design for Accelerated
e-Learning" is a pre-conference session
(additional cost) Sept. 24 with Blair and
colleague Nancy Maresh. Participants will
get what Blair calls a "take-away design
template for optimum online learning."
o "Breathing Life into Online Technical Training"
is a breakout session in the conference proper
with Blair and Maresh Sept. 26.
o Blair and Maresh will also host a "Really Live
Chatroom" Sept. 26 on "What if Learners Won't
Finish the Course?"
o "Why Online Learners Drop Out -- And What to do
About It" is a breakout session with consultant
Eric Parks Sept. 27.
Go to http://www.onlinelearning2000.comfor more about
6. ONLINE OFFICE HOURS
How do you set office hours for online instructors?
That question came from a reader at an academic
institution where the rule for traditional courses
is one hour of on-site office time for each hour in
Are teachers supposed to spend additional time for their
online courses? the reader asked.
Steven F. Jackson ( [email protected] ) says "most
of our faculty who teach pure distance-ed courses have
their required office hours in a chat room with hours
posted in the syllabus."
This approach hasn't, however, "risen to the official
line of policy," adds Jackson, chair of the department
of political science at Indiana (PA) University of
His school's traditional office-hour requirements are
contractual -- five hours across three different days
-- but school policy doesn't yet specify how to set
online office hours.
Another take: Christine Sevilla ( [email protected] )
says the standard for office hours in distance learning
must be different from traditional office hours.
"The teaching hours, from my experience, are far longer
than those in the classroom setting," says Sevilla.
She is an independent instructional designer in
Pittsford, NY, and teaches as an adjunct in the
human-resource development program at the Rochester (NY)
Institute of Technology.
"I suppose you could require phone conferences or chat,
but synchronous mode doesn't work for a global class,"
adds Sevilla, who has students in Africa and on the U.S.
She suggests simply stating guidelines, such as: All
student e-mail will get a response within 48 hours.
The good news, sort of: Students are less likely to be
"Frankly," Sevilla claims, "I've been ignored as a
student far more in a classroom setting than in any
distance class I've taken."
7. CRIES FOR HELP: E.R.P. TRANSACTIONS-ONLY TRAINING?
Readers? Can you help with the following questions from
E.R.P. TRANSACTION TRAINING ONLY? "I am the team
lead with a rather large enterprise-resource planning
project, charged with developing and deploying training
to a wide and diverse user group.
"My company employs 350,000 -- but thankfully not
all are users. The deployment of the new ERP system
is to be implemented in stages, and the first of those
stages has come and gone before I took this position.
"This first stage of training focused on teaching
individual transactions with just enough ideas and new
concepts to fill out any foreseen questions.
"However, the first stage of training was deemed
adequate, but not great. What was missing, the students
said, was a sense of the larger business picture, of just
where the transactions fit into the larger business
"My question is: What are your thoughts on teaching the
business processes to an end-user group over just
"Is one preferable over the other? Can you teach one and
not teach the other? Is there some magic balance?"
ONLINE POLICY MANUAL? "I have a regulatory manual
that I was asked to put online. The minimum expectations
would be to publish this manual as a reference on our
intranet. I have access to Lotus Notes and an
"I want to make sure that there are performance supports
built into the design that will help users. My question
is: How can I create the online policy manual and
organize it in such a way to:
o Make the information easily accessible?
o Show a return user what has changed since
the person last accessed the policy manual?"
ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL EVALUATION? "We can effectively
and objectively perform classroom and standup instructor
course evaluations, but we need to also develop an
objective way to evaluate e-learning offerings.
"We need to develop a 'one-size-fits-all' online
evaluation form which will cover CBTs and Web-based
training from vendors as well as in-house developed
"Our intent is to create a series of questions and
potential responses that will give us useful and
objective data concerning course content, ease of use and
USER INTERFACE? "I am working on a new graphical user
interface for our software applications. We have created
our new look and I am now working with four others to
"Are there any resources that you can point to
that discuss learning as it relates to usability of
a graphical interface and presentation of information
as it relates to graphical interfaces?"
CASE-STUDY MODELS? "How are organizations using a
case-study approach to learning online? Has anyone
devised a model that they have been able to apply to
"Most of the samples I have seen follow a tutorial
approach, with small scenarios built in as exercises.
I have not yet seen one that follows a case study from
beginning to end, with mini-tutorials along the way, as
Readers? If you can help, mailto:[email protected]
with your ideas under the appropriate subject line, e.g.
o Your name and title.
o Your organization's name.
o Your location -- what city, suburb or town?
o Briefly, what your organization does.
o A phone number at which we can reach you.
Your colleagues may have some ideas for you. Please
mailto:[email protected] and describe your dilemma.
Include a distinctive subject line.
8. LONDON SHOW STILL NEEDS PRESENTERS
VNU Learning still seeks formal proposals for breakout
sessions at OnLine Learning 2001 Europe, set for
Feb. 13-14 in London.
Presentations should cover European-specific e-learning
projects. VNU needs case studies, panels, learning
differences and strategic approaches.
Deadline for applications is Sept. 22. More information
is at the site listed above.
.. AND FINALLY
Go in-depth on e-learning.
Register for pre- and post-conference
workshops at OnLine Learning 2000. Go to
click Schedule-Program, then click Workshops.
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The OnLine Learning News team: Becky Wilkinson,
Steve Dahlberg, Terrie Maley, Leah Nelson, Andrew
Cleveland, Julie Groshens, Gloria Gery, Brian Ruhl,
Susan Rogers, Rich Alden, Ernie Leidiger,
Phil Jones, Marc Hequet.
Please mailto:[email protected] with questions or
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VNU Business Media