The rapid development
and change of technology over the last decade has had a resounding impact on
the training industry. Technology, coupled with the explosion of knowledge requirements in the information age, has led to the emergence of new training modalities such as online
learning. With the recent flood of new training products in the market, customers are faced with an extensive range of products that have been developed without assurance of
quality training methodologies. The
challenge for online training developers is to ensure online courses are of the highest quality and achieve the
intended learning outcomes that parallel the results of instructor-led training
As more and more American businesses begin moving online for much of their training, ITC Learning (ITC) is undertaking a major development effort committing to marry the best of instructional design with the power of online learning for the Process and Manufacturing industries.
ITC has been the leader in technical training for almost a quarter century, pioneering videotape technical training in the ‘70s and interactive videodisc technical training in the ‘80s. The ‘90s saw a conversion to CD-ROM and, today, ITC is committing to become the leader in technical training again – this time through the power and flexibility of online learning.
Unfortunately, several misconceptions have marked the
development of online learning thus far. Other courseware developers regard the online medium as a “reading” or page-turning activity. Of course, that resultant instruction leaves behind the nearly 40% of America’s workforce which tests below a fourth grade reading level. In addition, some early online instruction has been driven by “technocrats” who have failed to recognize the IT infrastructures and delivery capabilities within most of America’s process and manufacturing facilities.
Further development considerations include the lack of incorporation of adult learning principles. Although there has been work done on using the Web as a tool for delivering training, this research has been more focused on the mechanics of using the Web rather than in effectively applying Web-based technology to achieving the intended learning outcomes. In striving to
build a winning online training product, many developers base their strategies
on limiting costs or creating flash while sacrificing the basic learning
principles that training should incorporate to meet the goals of learning.
Statistics show that 50% of learners who have begun an asynchronous online course do not complete the training. The high dropout rate has been attributed to poor instructional design and a disparity between the learner’s computer system and the technology required to run the training. The online medium presents an opportunity for
developers to harness the flexibility of the technology, tailoring to learners’
needs, styles, and preferences. Online courses must be created to facilitate comprehension, retention, and
effective application in the workplace.
ITC’s online learning courseware performs effectively within an Intranet, WAN, LAN or Internet environment while addressing the needs of all craft employees, regardless of their reading level. Appropriate content, effective instructional design, powerful multimedia components, and recognition of the facility IT environment are the hallmarks of ITC’s online instruction.
To create an effective training experience while addressing the principles of adult learning theory and meet the Process and Manufacturing industry staff profiles and technologies, ITC addresses four key areas in its online courseware development. These areas include Usability, Instructional Design, Instructional Content, and
The usability of online training software is defined as how user-friendly or appealing a program is. In practice, usability goes deeper than this, and is closely related to how much users actually learn from using online training.
Many of the usability concepts that need to be considered from the end-user’s perspective are closely linked to the instructional design and learning objectives of the program. These include whether learners are kept engaged and active when they work through the online training, how much control is given to the learner, and if the program gives positive feedback to motivate learners. Another consideration is an online training product’s color, sound, and consistency, which if lacking, could compromise the effectiveness of the training program.
The effectiveness of online training is critical for encouraging learner motivation and sustaining repeat users. First-time users need to undergo positive training experiences so that they become high supporters, or champions, for their organizations. Since ITC’s online training products are geared for individual learning, techniques such as turning the learner into an active participant are vital to sustaining motivation and enhancing the learning cycle. Interaction within the online training is therefore critical to moving the learner from a passive to an active role.
Courseware usability is heavily dependent on the context in which it is used. Knowing the user and having an understanding of the end-users in terms of learner characteristics, learning modalities, and individual differences is a key engineering principle. Thus, training programs which are well matched to one learning context must avoid being poorly matched to another context and depend on:
Who the trainees or learners are,
What their learning objectives are,
The environment in which they will learn, and
The equipment they will be using.
Satisfaction with an online training course can affect learning outcomes indirectly, as poorly motivated learners do not use training programs to their best effect. It is more of a subjective measure, but no less important in assessing online training programs, since satisfaction and motivation are closely related to achievement of lasting learning outcomes.
To address usability in a contextual setting, ITC’s online training is aligned to the experience and characteristics of its users; specifically, the skilled trades workforce in the Process and Manufacturing industries.
Possibly the most valuable area to consider, instructional design ensures training materials are presented to facilitate the transfer of information into knowledge. Instructional design is the iterative process of planning and developing instruction. It is based on research findings on how learning takes place, and considers the conditions of learning of both external events of instruction, and previously learned capabilities which are stored in memory. The design phase is a detailed plan that defines, describes, and prescribes methods and procedures for the development, implementation, and management of an instructional episode.
Instructional design aims for a learner-centered rather than traditional teacher-centered approach to instruction, so that effective learning can take place. This means that every component of the instruction is governed by the learning outcomes, which have been determined after a thorough analysis of the learners’ needs. In ITC’s case, the learners are adults requiring training and knowledge upgrades in the Process and Manufacturing industry:
Adults are goal-oriented.
Adults are relevancy oriented (problem-centered), that is, they need to know why they are learning something.
Motivation for learning is driven by problem-solving or personal satisfaction.
Adults have accumulated life experiences.
Adults are autonomous and self-directed.
Adults learn in a variety of ways and have preferences in learning styles.
Each of these components is captured in the way ITC’s online training is designed and delivered, so that learning is maximized.
The potential of Web-delivered training to adults rests heavily on the instructional design components. Simply publishing a Web page with links to other pages does not constitute training. Instructional sequences usually include at least nine elements:
Explain what is to be learned;
Motivate the learner;
Gain the learner’s attention;
Present stimulus material;
Elicit performance through active involvement;
Provide confirmation, feedback, and guidance;
Offer assessments; and
Provide enrichment and remediation.
Some of these concepts overlap with ideas presented under usability. ITC’s design and development team ensures each of these events is incorporated into its online training products.
ITC’s analysis of the Process and Manufacturing market’s business objectives and needs determines the content that learners require. ITC’s content includes three categories of content that are informational, procedural, and behavioral.
ITC’s informational content is the one-way passage of facts. It might be as simple as a list of gauge types for use with a particular piece of equipment, the options available on a new forklift, or the latest changes to a maintenance plan. Learners can demonstrate their understanding of informational content through recitation or even application of that information. Because learners learn at different rates, the ability to proceed at their own pace, slowing down, or even skipping sections if appropriate, is convenient for learners of this kind of content.
The training’s procedural content links action steps (or information) together to form a process. It may include how to determine a troubleshooting plan, how to custom order a particular option package for equipment, or how to allocate the departmental responsibilities for the maintenance plan. This approach might be considered a linear path. Procedural content must be learned through practice, which is a key strength of ITC’s courseware. Sometimes a complex process may involve using job aides to help determine the next step. The ability of the learners to proceed at their own pace is also important with this type of content.
The behavioral aspects of the training involve more options, more possible paths, and probably more than one correct action. For instance, how to set up a better troubleshooting plan or even how to interact with department heads to ensure the maintenance plan is carried out thoroughly. This can be considered a multi-path process. Behavioral content must be practiced with changes to the circumstances. Role-playing and simulations are effective ways to communicate behavioral content. Interaction is important, as well as the ability to try out behaviors in a risk-free environment. Reinforcing the knowledge that a learner already has and applying that knowledge to new circumstances are also helpful.
The content technology to modify content must be designed to allow for scalability and “update ability”, which is a feature online programs easily permit. With online training, updating content is a simple matter of copying the updated files from ITC’s computer onto the server-computer. The next time learners connect to the Web page for training, they will automatically have the latest version of the course.
Today’s Web sites are following the same development path as early CD-ROMs. Most initial CD-based courses were text-only, and gradually became reliant on complex multimedia. In parallel, Web sites were initially text-only screens, and in today’s world feature increasingly more multimedia and graphics.
Most personal computers were eventually able to support high performance CDs, but the Internet has not reached a stage in which it easily supports the CD-equivalent multimedia components on the Web. This has proven to be a barrier to many online training vendors interested in delivering multimedia-rich training to their customers. The technical aspects of an online training program are critical and must be considered in advance to ensure it augments the learning process without interfering with it.
While the advantages of multimedia technologies are numerous, their integration into educational Web programs can come at a cost. Technological barriers to delivering effective online training include the unreliability of network connections, insufficient bandwidth, and congestion over the data transmission lines, each of which serves to delay transmission of data.
ITC addresses these barriers by developing training that meets a common denominator of delivery, yet addresses the quality considerations that are necessary and appeal to the Process and Manufacturing learning community. Online programs are designed with a flexible architecture, which meets the constantly changing technology platforms and compatibilities in operability standards. Online training can thus be delivered over an Intranet, Internet, LAN or WAN, conform to open architecture standards for easy linkage to other training accessory programs, and dispel the need for users to download plug-ins.
ITC designs training in chunked units, so that instructional sequences are presented in short learning modules. Such a design model accommodates a plan that allows easy progression to new and updated formats. Additionally, this format allows for easy updating of content so that users have instant access to new training units.