To keep up with the e-learning explosion, Training professionals enter the virtual classroom?as students.
There's no question about it: The technological revolution has changed the way many people think about corporate training. We no longer consider a stand-up presentation to a group of 25 employees the only way to train. It might be more cost-effective, for example, to schedule a synchronous, Web-based class for a group of 250?or 25,000. Follow-up could be done via CD-ROM or e-mail, or even through a learning management system. The potential cost savings of this new approach is fueling the demand for training professionals with the high-tech skills to design and implement these programs.
It's no surprise, then, that even the most experienced trainers are scrambling to keep up with the new digital age of training. For some, this will mean going back to college to seek the latest and greatest high-tech skills. But these may not be the halls of learning you remember.
Virtual Higher Education
If commuting to a college campus and spending three hours sitting at a desk in an uncomfortable classroom isn't your idea of fun, take heart: Advanced training for training professionals, including graduate-level degrees and certification programs, is now available online.
Be prepared, however, for slightly less glamour than you'll find in the typical corporate training program. The vast majority of online higher education courses are instructor-led, asynchronous and heavily laden with text-based readings. Support materials are provided through both the Web and traditional, class-assigned textbooks, and only a few classes are augmented with videotaped or CD-ROM lectures (sent via snail-mail, of course). Any interactive learning elements are typically facilitated through e-mail and threaded discussions with colleagues and instructors.
The technology is expanding, though. Some courses include synchronous teleconferencing and text-based chats that are recorded and posted at a secure site; students unable to participate at specific times can review such live discussions later, at their leisure. Quizzes, tests and writing assignments can easily be conducted via e-mail, and library and bookstore resources can often be accessed online. Some courses even take advantage of streaming video and audio components, but make sure you have adequate bandwidth before you get started.
School for the 21st Century Training Professional
One of the largest providers of online, accredited higher education is the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). Long known as a provider of continuing, part-time education, UMUC has now taken its mission one step further. The school's 24 online-degree programs include a master's degree in distance education. They also offer graduate-level certificates in distance education and technology, foundations of distance education, and training at a distance.
Although UMUC's programs have been "live" for less than a year, about 300 students have already enrolled, says Associate Dean Eugene Rubin, "without any significant advertising."
"The master's degree in distance education program is aimed at a broad cross section of the education and training population," he continues. "It's aimed at people in higher education, the K?12 sector, the nonprofits and government. And it's certainly aimed at the corporate and military communities."
One of these corporate community members is Tracy McLean, a trainer and instructional designer for Zurich Insurance's small business division in Baltimore. When the division began converting, creating and migrating most of its classroom and computer-based corporate training programs over to its new virtual university intranet, McLean decided to expand her skill set. She's now enrolled in UMUC's online master's degree program in distance education.
A married mother of two young children, McLean claims that she would never have been able to pursue a master's degree that wasn't online. "There's no way that I can participate in classroom instruction with the schedule that I have," she says, admitting that she tried the traditional bricks and mortar route at the University of Baltimore but had to withdraw because of "a problem with baby-sitting."
McLean enrolled in her first two online classes last fall: Foundations in Distance Education and Technology in Distance Education.
"I have two classes and 12 books," she says. "And we also have to go to external links to get additional information." In addition, online schoolwork includes mandatory participation in threaded discussions with her instructors and classmates. "We have 22 people in the class, so on any particular day or time someone may go in and comment on a thread that's been developed, or they may develop new threads," says McLean. "You have to sign on every day just to stay current with what's going on."
After accommodating her job and family responsibilities, McLean allocates time for studying during the late evening hours and weekends, as well as during her lunch breaks. "I make it fit into my life," she says. Nonetheless, it's a demanding schedule, and next year she plans to enroll in one course instead of two to lighten the load.
In the end, McLean believes that the work will pay off. "I'll be taking classes that will make me aware of problems or issues we may run into trying to get Web-based training programs in place," she says. "I want to get as much out of this as I can, so I can assist my division in moving forward."
A Capella Education
Now one year into her master's degree in education program, Kris Ginley is a virtual student at Capella University, an exclusively online higher education institution. Ginley, an independent corporate trainer, enrolled in an online program to "become more marketable in the training arena."
Ginley is currently working on a knowledge management system development project for Lucent Technologies; she believes that the training and development coursework offered by Capella will help keep her "current."
In addition to Ginley's master's degree program, Capella University offers an M.S. in education with various other specialization choices, including instructional design for online learning, teaching and training online, and distance education. All of the M.S. in education programs have related graduate-level certificate programs, and Capella also offers an online Ph.D. in education with an emphasis in instructional design for online learning.
"I would recommend someone come in at the certificate level," says Stan Trollip, Capella's director of learning strategies. He suggests that corporate trainers begin slowly, with a core course like Introduction to Multimedia and Web-Based Instruction class, to see if they are "cut out" for online learning.
"We've designed all these offerings so that people can put their feet in the water," says Trollip. "If they want to go on, they can keep adding courses and apply those credits toward a master's degree. If they still want to keep going, they can apply those credits toward a Ph.D."
Unlike UMUC's 15-week classes, Capella's courses are 12 weeks long. Both programs typically require 10 hours of schoolwork per class per week.
High-Tech Instruction for High-Tech Skills
For another 15-week graduate certificate program?this one in instructional technology?check out San Diego State University (SDSU). According to program director Donn Ritchie, the program helps students "find ways to increase the effectiveness or efficiencies of performances in the workplace"?a marketable skill for most training professionals.
As with all of the programs featured in this article, this program's broad mix of students includes training professionals from health care, telecommunications, education, and both small and large businesses. There are an equal number of male and female students, and the average age is about 33. "These are folks who already have knowledge and are already competent," says Ritchie, "but they want to increase their skills and become better at what they are doing."
One such student is Janet Jubran, academic relations coordinator for the Environmental Systems Research Institute's (ESRI) virtual campus. The company, which creates geographic information system (GIS) software, provides product support training to customers worldwide. Jubran works with ESRI content developers and IT staff to help design that training, which includes online self-study courses for a variety of GIS applications. She's hoping that SDSU can help her supplement her instructional design background.
"We're trying to make our courses at ESRI a little more interactive," says Jubran. "We've been thinking about using Flash software to have some video and some animation, which is very timely. In Advanced Multimedia Development, the course I'm taking right now, we are making little documentary videos in Flash, and then we are going to put them up on the Web. It will be very helpful when I finish."
The SDSU online classes are "very demanding," Jubran says. "They move along very vigorously. They really emphasize going back to the drawing board, going to the user and getting feedback and then taking that back to work it into your design." And unlike many other online courses, this one requires each student to evaluate whether or not his or her training program will actually achieve its goal: learning.
Distance Learning ... the Abridged Version
For training professionals seeking something less vigorous than the SDSU, Capella or UMUC courses of study, Jones International University offers a slightly abbreviated option.
Like Capella, Jones is a completely virtual higher education institution. But Jones? courses, such as Using the Internet in Corporate Training, taught by Paula Noonan, are all only four weeks long.
According to Noonan, Jones? classes can achieve real results more quickly by providing students with a means to see online training from both the learner and class-facilitator perspective. "What are the kinds of learning processes that people go through?" Noonan asks rhetorically. "What do trainers need to know in order to create learning that's going to be really dynamic for the learners?"
To complete the class, students must create a Web-based training module of a larger training program. Eventually, these students can build that larger training program themselves.
Laura Isabella, an instructional designer for Ernst & Young in New Jersey, is a huge fan of Jones? four-week program. "The class let me practice creating a sense of community," says Isabella. "One of my biggest challenges now is really getting Ernst & Young people engaged and willing to interact."
Isabella's statement is indicative of the one thing these online higher education providers have yet to prove: That trainers will be able to implement what they've learned when they go back to work in the corporate world. Finding this proof, of course, is an already familiar challenge.
For a more detailed listing of distance education programs, certificates and degrees for training professionals, visit
the Training Web site at www.trainingmag.com.
Professional Development Quick Fix
In this fast-paced, work-?til-you-drop business world, a small educational fix can do a lot of good. For lifelong learners, short-term, squeeze-it-into-my-busy-life professional-development courses can be just the ticket. But busy professionals want?and demand?courses that actually do what they should: boost personal and professional growth while providing new know-ledge or skills for employers.
With that in mind, the University of St. Thomas Graduate School of Business in Minneapolis created a unique offering called the Mini MBA. This series of professional development programs includes coursework in franchise management, e-commerce and international management, among other areas, and classes are designed for technical professionals, government managers and other working adults.
Every Mini MBA is different: One meets for one three-hour session (6 p.m. to 9 p.m.) each week for 14 weeks; another consists of two modules in which students meet for two days from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with each module held during a different month; and the Leading Growing Companies program consists of five modules in which students meet for two days from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every month for five months. Tuition, depending on the program, ranges from $1,500 to $2,700.
"These programs are designed around the idea of engaging the professions," says George Heenan, executive fellow and director of the St. Thomas School of Business Institute for Strategic Management.
"The idea is for people to take ideas and implement them. It's a way of taking people who are currently in business and have a particular need and bringing them rapidly up to date."
The Mini MBA program was implemented in 1974 with one general MBA covering the core elements of business administration. The program now includes more than 14 Mini MBAs. "They are all geared toward the practitioner, the person in either business or an organization," says George Meyer, director of professional development centers. "We draw a lot of people from the "nonprofit sector" who want to be in our programs to mix with the for-profit sector. They come to sharpen their skills. Many come with an eye toward deciding whether or not to take a traditional MBA program."
Mini MBA programs will be offered in an online learning mode in the future, according to Meyers. For now, however, students have to travel to the St. Thomas campus to participate. Some of the Mini MBA programs, such as the one for international management and another for environmental professionals, have been compressed into one-week programs to accommodate international business people who come to Minneapolis to learn from St. Thomas faculty.
The St. Thomas Graduate School of Business is recognized as offering the fourth largest MBA program in the United States, according to Heenan. "It really has been developed because of a strong faculty with good ties to the business community, along with focused programs and classes that people find very helpful."
What do trainers and designers really need to know about building e-learning environments?
"There are three big buckets that need to be addressed. One is if you are going to be doing instructor-led training, you need to learn how to design courses that are interactive and get people to be really engaged. Second, you need to provide really good and adequate training to the people who are going to be teaching the online courses. Third, if you're going to have instructor-less courses, such as CBT courses, you need a different set of skills to design and develop them."
o Have a basic understanding of html and how to use an html composer.
o Know how to shift content from a trainer-focus delivery to a content-focus delivery.
o Know what the various application solution providers (asps) can do for you if you decide to use their platforms and/or learning management systems for your e-learning. For example, does the platform have all the features you want? How much will it cost per student to use that platform?
o Know what kind of design team you need. Assess your expertise and decide what you have to bring to the table to make things work. Do you need a Web developer, a content expert, a graphic artist?
"There are a lot of corporate trainers who have never gone through an educational technology program. So I don't think not having it precludes someone from doing a job well. But those who are new in the field, or those who may be floundering somewhat, or may want to increase their professional competence, or feel there's more out there that they want to learn, can benefit a lot from a graduate program."
"As trainers and designers look to develop and deliver training programs through e-learning, they need to find out how that learning is going to differ by using technology. They need to learn what key components have to be incorporated into the program in order to have an effective instructional design?good learner support and instructor services?and how to choose the appropriate technology for the application."
"The transport mechanism, the technology, is only half of the formula. The other half is understanding learning and teaching. Traditional training people don't necessarily have the IT background. IT people don't have what the training people have, which is a pretty good knowledge base about how to teach people and how people learn. So, what's emerging right now are some newer credentials that sort of marry those two. There are two things now that may move you up the management ladder. One is a degree in a field that marries the two. The other is, of course, job experience. The problem is that this stuff is expanding fast, and there's not a large pool of people with a lot of experience. Therefore, the credentials are becoming more important."
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