We’ve come a long way down the technology trail in the past three decades. The training challenges for the Process & Manufacturing Industries have grown. The training choices have increased. And the trade-offs involving instructional design, production values, plus cost and efficiency issues have complicated the entire process for the Corporate Trainer.

However, the heart of the matter has not changed. Learning values have always been balanced against corporate issues, involving both money and efficiencies.

The best training is one-on-one hands-on training that was standard procedure in American industry throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century.hands-on-training Here you had the real thing. Here you had an instructor (usually, “ol’ Charlie”) who knew how to maintain and operate that piece of equipment you were trying to learn. No form of later technology-based training would ever match it from a learning point-of-view.

Why did it go away? Cost. Much too expensive. And, it was also the least efficient method for training. But, for learning it was best.

While paper material choices and classroom instruction have always been part of the training solution, today’s blog will focus on the evolution which occurred in technology-delivered learning.

First came the videos. Less expensive and somewhat more efficient than one-on-one instruction. Videos, however, demanded a classroom and an instructor (an expensive undertaking as employees were taken off-line to gather in a single place). The only interactivity took place between instructor and students. The video was linear.

Interactive Laser Videodisc followed videotape and with that advance we found the very best electronic learning tool we’ve had up to this present time. Interactive Laser Videodisc gave us moving pictures; branching designs for better individualized instruction; and almost total user control.

It died because it was analog (the world was rapidly moving toward digital) and the equipment was expensive and not very portable. A Learning Center generally housed the Laserdisc playback equipment, which meant cost and efficiency issues were still problems. Pulling people off-line and having facilitators, etc. is still not a very efficient way to learn.

CD-ROM, a transitional technology, replaced Videodisc and, because we were in the earlier limited days of digital, most good branching design for learning went away. CD-ROM delivery was a step above videotape for its user-controlled interactivity but a big step below the power of individualized Interactive Laser Videodisc learning design.

Moreover, again we had a training-delivery system that had efficiency limitations. One either had to buy a zillion copies in order to distribute them to all involved or continue with the Learning Center concept. Once again, since labor costs are always the single biggest training expenditure, we had a relatively inefficient system — plus one that did not have the learning-value compensations of “one-on-one by ol’ Charlie” instruction or the complete user control (individually tailored) instruction offered by Interactive Laser Videodisc.

Currently, we have entered the “e-Learning era.” At last we have a system for training that is truly available 24×7 — available almost anywhere to almost anyone with a connection, either inside or outside an organization’s firewall. It is the most efficient and cost-effective training methodology yet conceived.

However useful, e-Learning too often gives up the “motion picture value” of these earlier technologies — and, that is a weakness. Why? Because corporate facilities are not presently equipped with the infrastructure necessary to seamlessly admit compressed video onto their networks. This absence, however, can be compensated for with carefully constructed optional full audio. Without optional full word-for-word audio, e-Learning will prove worthless as a training technology for the 40% of our American workforce who do not read above a 4th Grade level.

(An alternative e-Learning strategy should also be mentioned. Today, it is possible to digitize CD-ROM courseware, with its full motion capability, and successfully network it on a training dedicated LAN. While one gives up the “anytime, anywhere” benefit of e-Learning, “moving pictures” with full audio can be readily available to everyone behind the firewall. It is a short-term alternate solution but it delivers better learning values.)

So, history has taught us that it is always a “pay yer nickel and take yer choice” life. Always has been and always will be. From an enhanced learning point-of-view, “one-on-one by ol’ Charlie” and Interactive Laser Videodisc instruction are easily at the head of the class. From an efficiency and cost point-of-view, e-Learning has revolutionized training. It’s hard to beat “just in time;” “always available to anyone;” and “lower cost.” In addition, knowledgeably designed e-Learning courseware is always instantaneously updateable, customizable, and consistent.elearning_treeofknowledge

Tomorrow will be different. Continuing advances in learning delivery technology will, one day, allow us to return to the enhanced learning-power of Interactive Laser Videodisc, while incorporating the cost and efficiency advantages of the current optional full audio e-Learning. And equally exciting are the emerging Gaming and Simulation technologies that will, eventually, propel learning forward even further.

More on Tuesday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning