A few months ago I was invited to review several E-Learning courses marketed by a Midwestern training vendor. This particular vendor has a large number of offerings targeted at many industries. And, their catalog describes their solutions as “skills training.”

As we shall soon see, that catalog description could not be further from the truth!

What I saw astonished me. It was like traveling backwards in a time capsule. Looking at those courses placed me back into the early and mid 1980s when technology training first came to a critical crossroad.

Back then, with the introduction of the Black Apple (followed quickly by the early videodisc players), the training world was all abuzz with the battle between CBT (computer based training) and IVD (interactive laser videodisc training).

For a year or two, CBT had a slight lead in the race but, shortly thereafter IVD became dominant and CBT died away (or, so I thought at the time).

Why? Because skills training is the antithesis of the memorization techniques incorporated in education and information conveyance — the only attribute that CBT offers — because CBT is primarily word- and stills-based.

Furthermore, for the majority of our labor force, words are generally not translated into learning.


We all should know by now that nearly half of our workforce population can neither learn nor form opinions from language written beyond a 4th Grade reading level.

On the other hand, Skills Training demands “doing” — whether it be:

a) hands-on , or
b) vicarious (videotape or film), or
c) simulation (IVD, CD-ROM, multimedia based E-Learning, or the newer games & simulations programs)

We memorize to learn new information. But, if we are attempting to acquire a skill — we practice by “doing.”

It’s also worth noting the history of CBT which actually sprang as a look-alike for the slide show presentations many of us witnessed in school before the emergence of computers.

And that slide-show evolution continues to this day — most unfortunately — with the adapted PowerPoint presentations that are dirtying up E-Learning as a valid training medium.

So, back to what I saw in those sample programs. CBT it was! — with professional voice-over and beautiful graphics, plus lots and lots of words on each “slide.”

These programs will not train anyone. They may pass some information along to the trainee but that trainee will not be able to perform any of the skills discussed without additional “doing” exposure –- probably, hands-on.

What a waste of the buyer’s money! What a waste of employee time!

And all because, too often, the buying decisions have been transferred from the local plant management and training personnel to the corporate office where few people with buying responsibility have any insight into training values, effective skills acquisition, or knowledgeable instructional design.

Do I believe that this new iteration of CBT will die away? Of course it will! But it will take a longer time to do so than it did in the 1980s because individuals who understand the importance of training outcomes do not have the purchasing leverage they once had. And, because there are far too many do-it-yourselfers in training departments who, mistakenly, believe that they are capable of designing effective training while using one of those templated courseware authoring systems.

I earnestly hope we can change this situation before too many skill sets begin to erode. CBT is definitely not the answer — and, never has been!

More on Tuesday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning (Tuesdays & Thursdays)