Around five times a week, Sally Nowak puts on training seminars for fellow Agilent Technologies Inc. employees in Australia, Germany, Singapore, and numerous other locations around the world.
Dont get carried away dreaming about how youd spend her frequent-flier miles though. She conducts most of those seminars from her cubicle at Agilents Liberty Lake plant via Internet-classroom technology.
Its like when we had flip charts and Post-it notes, Nowak says. Were just not in the same room.
Pointing to a computer screen, she says, This is our room.
Use of distance trainingthrough Web-enabled classrooms, CD-ROM technology, and videoconferencingis becoming more common with employers, Nowak and other corporate-training experts say. They cite cost and time savings as the main benefits of such technologically advanced training methods, because when companies use them, employees dont need to be flown elsewhere for seminars and training sessions as often.
Tom Fisher, a training specialist at Spokane-based Washington Trust Bank, says the 28-branch regional bank added Web-enabled classes to its training curriculum earlier this year and has been pleased with the way they have worked thus far.
Its looking like we probably will continue doing it, Fisher says. Its been successful for us.
Washington Trust also has begun conducting classes via videoconferencing, Fisher says.
Both Nowak and Fisher say distance learning isnt appropriate for all topics. For example, leadership development is best taught in person, where an employee can participate in role playing or other interactive exercises.
Fisher says the majority of Washington Trusts seminars are taught in person so the banks personnel can work on developing interpersonal skills.
Still, both say, distance learning fills a valuable role in other areas.
Distance learning falls into two basic categories: synchronous learning and asynchronous learning. With synchronous learning, via the Web, participants are online at the same time with an instructor and all go through information at the same rate as a member of a group. A student communicates with instructors and other students via a chat room thats part of the online class. In some cases, they also might be participating in a conference call while viewing information online.
Classes taught through a video-conference also would be considered synchronous learning.
With asynchronous learning, participants view information online independently and go through it at their own pace. Distance learning that uses CD-ROMs also would be considered asynchronous learning.
At Agilent, a large portion of employee training involves distance learning.
Earlier this year, the big electronics manufacturer converted all of its enterprise-resource planning software to the Oracle Corp. brand, which allows integration of information about all of a companys functions into a single computer system.
Training the companys 37,000 employees worldwide on the new system was an extraordinary task, Nowak says, and both synchronous and asynchronous online classes played a big role in that process.
During Agilents third quarter ended July 31, the company tallied more than 602,000 student hours online specifically for training in the Oracle software. That comes out to an average of 16 hours of training per Agilent employee. Nowak says, however, that many workers spent a total of 40 hours or more in Oracle training, while otherslike herselfspent relatively little time becoming acquainted with the new software.
With the online training, she says, You can do a lot with very little resources. If we had to do that in a classroom, it would be unbelievably hard to coordinate.
Typically, she says, online classes tackle more focused topics and last three hours or less. Topics include employee safety, ethics, customer relations, and a number of other topics.
Agilent uses a customized system for its online education, and employees can access the system only from the companys computer network, rather than from computers at home or elsewhere. Nowak says employees take classes during working hoursrather than on their own time. Sometimes, however, classes are offered at odd hours to accommodate employees in other parts of the world. For example, Nowak says shes taken classes offered from 9 p.m. to midnight.
At Washington Trust Bank, all of the banks online classes are offered through the Association of Independent Bankers, and are asynchronous in nature.
Fisher says the classes typically involve four to eight hours of coursework, but an employee usually will complete the class in small increments. An employee has three months to complete a class.
The banks employees are required to take certain classes and complete the coursework during working hours. The classes are catered toward specific positions.
For example, a teller might take a class on cross-selling the banks financial products, or a financial-services representative might take a class on relationship building.
Another form of asynchronous distant learning involves using CD-ROMs. Spokane-based Gibby Media Group has developed CD-ROM technology, called Gibby Disc Pro, thats used for distance training.
Company President Lon Gibby says such a disc holds up to one hour of video footage and related text manuals and diagrams.
The disc also contains software needed to run the video footage, Gibby says, so it works on any computer that runs Microsoft Windows.
Video from a Gibby disc runs 30 frames a second and is comparable in quality to television images. Gibby Media, which has worked in video production for over 18 years, shoots the instructional video then converts it into a CD-ROM presentation.
They still have to have written manuals, but this is becoming the training material of choice, Gibby says. Anybodys desk becomes a training station.
For a few companies, Gibby Media has taped seminars put on by high-profile corporate trainers and made discs containing video highlights from those seminars.
The discs then are distributed to employees in need of training.
Agilent doesnt use the Gibby Disc, but it does use CD-ROM technology for distance learning.
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