Interactive training: Is it in your future?

Training is moving up on almost everyone's priority list. The rapid changes in technologies used in plants, plus a tight labor market, are major reasons, but it goes deeper than that.

By Gary Weidner July 1, 1999

Training is moving up on almost everyone’s priority list. The rapid changes in technologies used in plants, plus a tight labor market, are major reasons, but it goes deeper than that. Many plant engineering and maintenance departments are making fundamental changes in the way they operate. Strategies such as cross training, multiple responsibilities, matrix reporting, and continuous improvement are being applied; and their success depends strongly on training.

Computers and the internet are changing how some of that training is delivered. These new means of training are here to stay. The Clinton administration has made the “wired classroom” a national priority. Students are becoming accustomed to using computers not only as information resources, but also as learning tools.

This article examines interactive training delivered via computer. The ultimate source of the lesson software could be a CD-ROM, corporate LAN or intranet, or the internet. The rudiments of this activity are already familiar to workers who have used interactive CD-ROM or web-based catalogs. These catalogs often include tutorials that teach use of the catalog and how to select products, create specifications, or build part numbers.

Why use a computer?

In many situations, computer-based training (CBT) is a natural successor to classroom training. Here are the reasons.

Accessibility — Either distance or time may separate workers from needed knowledge. CBT gives personnel at various locations, working various shifts, equal opportunity to learn.

Cost — Although developing or purchasing CBT course materials and hardware requires a significant investment, live training can be much more costly. For live training, the course and materials must be developed, site and instructor arranged, classes scheduled, attendees’ time scheduled, and travel arranged. Meanwhile, attendees are unavailable at theirs jobs during the travel and training periods.

Updates — Corrections, additions, and changes to course materials are readily accomplished. New CD-ROMs are inexpensive to “print” and distribute.

Segmentation — CBT allows trainees to deal with learning in bite-size chunks, rather than sitting for hours in a classroom.

Frequency — Matching classroom training to workforce changes and turnover can be a real headache. CBT vastly improves training flexibility.

Pace — The CBT student determines his or her own pace. Classroom training often proceeds at the pace of the slowest learner.

Instructors — CBT leverages the capabilities of top-notch instructors. It allows a good instructor to serve many students and permits the talents of experts to be made widely available.

Participation — In a classroom setting, some students tend to be shy and nonparticipative. The personalized interaction inherent in CBT allows these people to get more out of training.

Web-based training: When?

The drawback to web-based training (WBT) at this time is that it is so new very little training material of interest to manufacturing plant personnel is available in packaged product form. Nonetheless, right now is the time to become aware of the fundamentals of WBT. At the rate that internet-based activities change, WBT will almost certainly blossom before long. A retarding factor: Many corporate IT managers are presently distracted by Y2K concerns. That distraction will fade away next year.

If your company is large, has sizable training requirements, and often handles the task internally, the time to begin using WBT is now. WBT can be implemented internally by cooperation among the technical, training, and IT departments; or it can be done by contracting or partnering with an outside training house. Even though they don’t yet offer packaged WBT products, many of these houses offer custom development capabilities. Or, if your company has the expertise to create training content inhouse, the outside needs may only be for a web page developer. (There are lots of them around.)

WBT: Why?

Web-based training offers all the advantages of approaches like the CD-ROM, plus other attractive benefits as well.

Easy updates — “Some of this material, prepared 36-hr ago, is already outdated.” Those words, spoken recently by a classroom instructor as he distributed CD-ROMs to students to take back with them, highlight a key feature of web-based training: Content can be updated anytime.

Instruction management — Monitoring and control capabilities can be invaluable. These functions range from control of access and curriculum to recording scores and other student data. The interactive nature of the learning process allows each student’s “class” time to be easily monitored. Training costs can be realistically apportioned.

Feedback — Properly designed WBT tests the user’s knowledge. Performance results are fed back to the user, and the WBT system may also adapt to the instructional needs of the user.

Enterprise data — When it would help in learning, live data can be used in student exercises. This capability is especially valuable when it involves large amounts of information from enterprise databases.

Short topics — WBT lends itself nicely to topics too short for classroom training. These topics may be quite important, but because they aren’t lengthy enough to merit separate classes, they have traditionally been tacked onto classes that are only partly related.

Group activities — WBT can approximate some of the unique elements of classroom training. Depending on the speed/bandwidth of the system, capabilities range from web-type keyboard discussion groups to live audio and video.

Overall assessment — It’s often said that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. WBT offers the ability to measure the effectiveness of educational methods and programs. It truly enables instruction management.

Modularity — Flexibility of WBT allows for various types of modular construction. Illustrative materials, animations/simulations, or even whole segments of content can be inventoried and easily swapped.

The often-joked-about souvenir binder from the traditional training class will never disappear entirely. But even though electronic training won’t always be the answer, it will gradually become the preeminent means of training.

Key concepts

Many types of training are becoming computer based.

Computer-based training can be individually packaged, such as on a CD-ROM, or provided via a network or the internet.

CD-ROMs are presently the predominant vehicle, but will gradually be overshadowed by use of the internet.

Interactive training terminology

The interactive training scene is rife with new terminology. Much of it is neither standardized nor well defined. Here are a few key terms you will encounter.

Asynchronous training is done independently. The learner alone determines scheduling and pace.

Distance learning is any instruction where distance, time, or both separate instructor and student. Be cautious when encountering this much-used term. Its meaning has become very broad. For example, in a move reminiscent of hospitals suddenly becoming “medical centers,” many traditional book-and-paper correspondence schools now call themselves “distance learning schools.”

Computer-based training (CBT) can mean any training delivered via computer.

Synchronous training is typified by classrooms, live broadcasts, or online chat sessions. The learner must follow a dictated schedule and is separated from the instructor by distance, but not time.

Web-based training (WBT) indicates a type of CBT that relies on internet technology in various ways and is delivered via a network. Other names for WBT are web-based learning, web-based instruction, or internet-based training, learning, or instruction.

Is classroom training dead?

There are situations for which live, classroom training remains the best choice. Some subjects require extensive hands-on lab or shop sessions in order to facilitate learning. Also, CBT does not work well for discussion-oriented subjects requiring lots of interaction within the class itself.

The fewer students, schedules, and locations involved, the more attractive the classroom becomes. Put another way, CBT costs more to develop but less per session to use. Classroom training costs less to develop, but more per session to use.

Finally, the rigid schedules of classroom sessions are better for some people. Online students have to be self-starters.

What about video?

Video tapes are probably the most-used method of nonclassroom teaching. They’re inexpensive to create and use. But as with the live classroom, video instruction generally proceeds at the expected pace of the slowest learner. There’s no interaction and little opportunity for the student to gauge his or her competence. As CD-ROMs become commonplace, at least one vendor of video training has copied video tape presentations onto CD-ROMs to be played on computers.

Live video instruction conducted over two-way links overcomes the interaction drawback of video tapes, provided a student is willing to interact. It has the disadvantages of substantial cost and scheduling hassles.

What not to do

Don’t confuse mere information presentation with true instruction. If you have the opportunity to be involved in creating interactive materials, don’t forget the interactive aspect. The easiest mistake to make is to simply lift large amounts of text from printed materials that were previously used. Good CBT/WBT is not a collection of information pages or an online book.

Don’t leave your company IT people out of the loop when implementing either packaged or custom- developed interactive training. They may have good advice, and they may be your only readily accessible resource for troubleshooting assistance.

Example of a CD-ROM-based course

This well planned course uses a balanced mix of components:

– Audio, video, and appropriate use of color

– Layered and 3D graphics

– Brief tutorial on how to access and use segments of the course

– Exercises that tell the student how much time was spent on troubleshooting, whether all needed parts were replaced, and whether any unnecessary parts were replaced

– Progress rating to tell the student how he or she is doing

– Hardbound reference manual.

Interactive training suppliers

The following companies and organizations offer interactive training materials, custom services,or both. Other valuable information resources are the Web-Based Training Information Center( and the American Society for Training & Development (

Company Specialty Web site address Circle

American Welding Society Welding 221

Biach Information Arts General 222

CBT Web Communications 223

Coastal Skills Training General 224

CRC Press Electric drives 225

Comprehensive Loss Management, Inc. Safety/health/

environmental 226

iKnowledge, Inc. Maintenance 227

ISA Measurement/

Control 228

Ken Cook Co. General 229

LeadingWay Corp. General,

large systems 230

NC State University Maintenance 231

Power Transmission Distributors Assn. Power transmission 232

Summit Training Source, Inc. Safety 233

Tel-A-Train, Inc. (Primedia) Maintenance 234

The Marcom Group, Ltd. Safety/health/

environmental 235

The Training Network, Inc. Safety/health/

environmental 236

TPC Training Systems General 237

Vickers, Inc. Hydraulics 238

Williams Learning Network (Primedia) Maintenance/safety 239

Workplace Training Measurements 240

More info

For general information on training, see the “Maintenance” channel on our web site: