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Training Tools Lead the Way


Technology Technology has come an awfully long way in a decade. It's moved at such speed that dial-up modems seem like dinosaurs. Has training kept pace with such rapid change? John Stokdyk looks back over the last 10 years of technology in his first of many features as TrainingZone's technology editor.

Ten years ago when Tim Pickles launched TrainingZone, he was at the forefront of a key innovation - adopting the internet as a medium for professional information-sharing and personal development.

As he wrote in his first LearningWire: "TrainingZone will be a community website providing access to a very wide range of resources, directories, news, information and links of interest to trainers, coachers, learners and managers." What he did not perhaps spell out was that the site's communal ethos was the true innovation rather than the web technology that made it possible.

"During 1998-2001 new e-learning websites and tools sprang to life almost every week. TrainingZone was right out on the cutting edge with its own Toolkit Library."

John Stokdyk, technology editor for the Sift Media portfolio

That's the funny thing about computing - often while experts loudly debate esoterica such as online interaction, e-learning and Web 2.0, the wider world embraces things like the web, mobile phone texting, games consoles and Facebook with barely a second thought. E-learning is still around, but has a quaintly antique feel about it, much as the phrase 'e-government' harks back to the fresh dawn of New Labour 10 years ago.

Tim's early LearningWires bring that era back to life with reviews of key websites for trainers, including the Department for Education and Employment's edutrain listing page on Sadly since then, the Dfee, and the listing page have all ended up in cyberspace's recycle bin.

During 1998-2001, new e-learning websites and tools sprang to life almost every week. TrainingZone was right out on the cutting edge with its own Toolkit Library. It may come as a surprise to younger readers, but many of us used 144kbps dial-up modems and ISDN lines back then, so downloading several megabytes of code could be a tedious undertaking - for example, when Tim Pickles moaned about having to download a copy of Internet Explorer in 1998.

The TrainingZone Toolkit Library turned into a Document Library and many of our tools went the same way as so many other web-based training initiatives. Timing is so important in the world of high technology. You need to be able to spot the next big wave on the horizon, but to time your take-off to catch it on the rise. Paddle too early and you risk being caught by the undertow of inflated expectations. Ironically, many of the interactive ideas we experimented with in the early days have become the norm and are rapidly being surpassed by tools and techniques that have exploded in the past couple of years.

The concept of a blog - a web log used for sharing personal information in diary form on the web - was first identified and defined on the site by Watson Wyatt national intranet and employee portal leader Michael Rudnick in June 2004. "Wiki" didn't turn up until a year later in a report by Godfrey Parkin on an innovations in e-learning conference.

Thanks to the loyalty of its now 40,000-plus community, TrainingZone weathered the slump and documented the growth pains and spurts of e-learning, and the struggle by commercial learning management systems to be taken seriously in the corporate world. When we surveyed members about their favourite learning tools last year, Adobe's Creative Suite and Captivate tools (pretty much the industry's standard documentation and content development tools) blew away the competition from specialist learning management system (LMS) developers in terms of user numbers and their satisfaction with the products.

"The question is no longer about whether YouTube and FaceBook are suitable media for your in-house training materials and interactive simulations, but rather what's holding you back?"

Education has often proved to be fertile ground for technology adoption and one of the more interesting developments here has been the rise of open source tools such as Moodle.

Unlike Tim's generation (and mine), the kids today are tech-savvy and have developed fierce hand-eye co-ordination and thumb dexterity through years of practice with GameBoys, PlayStations and mobile phones. Nik Kellingly, an experienced trainer now working for a Middle East software company, represents the new breed and shared his thoughts with the community about the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft's Xbox 360 games consoles in our Christmas gadget countdown.

Interactive games are second nature to the gamer generation, and so is the concept of 'user-generated content'. The question is no longer about whether YouTube and Facebook are suitable media for your in-house training materials and interactive simulations, but rather what's holding you back? It's a lot cheaper to let your in-house team loose on some of these projects than hiring an overpriced external agency, and you'll all have a lot of fun and gain a lot of new insights about training methodologies and techniques along the way.

There may well be a repetition of some of the amateurish excesses of the kind we saw in the early days of desktop publishing and website design, and there are bound to be painful scrapes and mistakes. But in time, these too will be recognised as learning experiences.

I'm something of a Johnny-come-lately to TrainingZone. As an editor of our sister site, AccountingWEB, I have worked alongside all of TrainingZone's editors – Tim Pickles, Stephanie Phillips, Ben Hawes, Claire Savage and Susie Finch - but have only made occasional contributions to the site. This year I have been asked to join in more actively with regular articles on the technology side of training.

I'm really looking forward to it, as the arrival of so called 'serious gaming', social networking sites and virtual worlds such as Second Life and mobile training have opened up amazing new possibilities for interactive technology.

However, I don't plan to pontificate from on high. I want to get into the trenches and find out what's really happening on the front line. Have computer games or wikis penetrated your department? Or if they haven't, what are the barriers to adoption? And finally, if you have grappled with new technology and come up with a fresh and innovative approach or set of electronic materials, what about sharing your techniques with the rest of us? One of the things I am really looking forward to doing is preparing some step-by-step guides to explain how trainers have created a particular module or piece of training content.

Just as Tim Pickles set out to do 10 years ago, the whole ethos of TrainingZone is all about sharing experiences and ideas between community members.

John Stokdyk is the technology editor for the Sift Media portfolio.


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