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No More Pencils, No More Books

Computers Are Changing Our Perceptions About What Facilitates Learning


Gentle reader:

Technology's vast reach has by no means always enriched our lives, as each of us who has ever been startled by a beeping pager can attest. There are, however, some astonishingly effective computer training applications that redefine the learning process (see test on this page) and help older workers stay competitive (Page 12).

The men and women who bring us these electronic marvels, however, often struggle o communicate with ordinary mortals. Writer James Bates comes to the rescue with a report on how to teach techies to talk turkey (Page 12).

Ms. Work Wise


Readers of the Careers section first met Ms. Work Wise last November when the etiquette-savvy fictional character created by our readers joined real-life columnist Judith Martin (a.k.a. "Miss Manners") to address problems related to rudeness in the workplace. Ms. Work Wise returns in this issue to introduce stories on different types of training and will continue to appear as a voice in careers.

Not long ago, there was one right way to learn: sitting straight up under bright lights with both feet on the floor. Book on the left, paper on the right. No music, no talking, no chewing gum.

Students who couldn't adapt to that learning style were eventually forced out of class. Students who excelled at it often became teachers--and carried on the tradition. But lately, in part because of advances in technology, our perception of the study process has changed.

"If we've learned anything in the last 20 years, it's that there is no 'right way' to learn, says lifelong teacher Theodora "Teddi" Baer, now manager of learning technologies and services at AlliedSignal Federal Manufacturing & Technologies/New Mexico.

People learn better when they do it on their own terms, and nothing in the history of teaching has offered students the chance to control the process as much as computer-based training. Trainees can hunt for the information they want, graze a bit, take side trips, slow down or speed up, and have some fun in the process.

Of course, not every teaching situation lends itself to computer-based training, often referred to as CBT. It does have some pronounced limitations. How much do you know about what works and what doesn't? Take this true-false exam and and find out.

1. Internet or intranet training is being embraced by managers because it is fast.

2. One reason computer training courses are popular with managers is that they are inexpensive to produce.

3. An online training curriculum can be modified and distributed with ease.

4. Adult trainees prefer to absorb information in a linear pattern, proceeding from A to Z at their own pace.

5. It is most effective to train employees with similar job descriptions at the same time.

6. Computers are great for to use for retraining employees.

7. The art of sales negotiation can now be taught well via computer.

8. Training in the use of new products is a prime CBT application.

9. Directors of training at large American corporations expect online training will soon account for half of the training being done.

10. Trainers look forward to the day when humans will no longer be required in the corporate classroom.

1. False. Online training has many advantages, but speed isn't one of them. Self-contained computer programs on CD-ROMs are able to display content much faster.

2. False. Custom-designed CBT software can easily cost $20,000 to $100,000 for one hour of training content, says Kevin Kruse, president of Green Brook, N.J.-based Advanced Consulting. The high-end product comes with heavy audio and video components along with the special effects that make it more entertaining: 3-D virtual worlds built around original artwork, perhaps including an adventure or mystery game with animated sequences.

3. True. This is a huge advantage for a widespread operation. Managers can keep course materials in one place and update contents within minutes as circumstances change. Trainees can dial in from anywhere and see the latest version.

4. False. Adults prefer to proceed at their own pace, all right, but usually not in a linear fashion. Computers allow trainees to learn based on their own experience with the material. They can skip past the step-by-step part of a course and hear the "tips" first if they want. They can back up and skim over steps one, two and three that they already understand, then slow down and take their time with new information.

At AlliedSignal, trainees can also choose among several formats as they sit at their computers: animation, videos, still pictures, charts and graphics.

"We have as many variables as we can afford to give," Baer says. "People work better when they learn to work on their own terms."

5. False. While group learning may be expedient when everyone is about to get a new task, most company developments happen incrementally, and people who don't immediately use a new skill will soon forget it. Computers offer just-in-time training.

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