Software training is on course

A distance-learning initiative has cut the Education Department’s training
expenses by nearly 4,000 percent, an agency official said.


Costs have dropped from about $200 per course to just $5.20, said Steven Corey-Bey,
director of the Special Projects Group in the Office of the Chief Information Officer.
“Given the economies, what’s not to love” about software training? he said.


The department uses computer-based training products for Microsoft Office applications
from InfoSource Inc. of Winter Park, Fla., and NETg of London. A systems integrator
custom-develops the training material and department personnel mark up Hypertext Markup
Language files for the department’s intranet, he said.


Users who take the InfoSource training can leave the intranet and go back later to
their marked places, Corey-Bey said.


For certification-level training, Education uses products from Learning Tree
International Inc. of Los Angeles. Department officials have also developed animated
training content in Shockwave from Macromedia Inc. of Los Angeles, which requires a
browser plug-in for viewing.


The training program, which went into production in February after a November 1997
launch, has cost less than $200,000, Corey-Bey said.


Education’s 5,000 employees at 10 regional offices and headquarters are not
required to take the courses, although classroom, book and online training are all
available. But the computer-based training has flourished because Education recently
standardized on Microsoft Exchange messaging and Microsoft Office applications.


“Sometimes pilots just kind of blossom and you don’t track the
development,” he said.


Employees access the intranet with Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.02 browsers on
networked Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0 clients. Education uses T1 lines and the
TCP/IP communications protocol for its LANs and WAN, Corey-Bey said.


Department officials now are considering instructor-led training over the network, as
well as video cameras, e-mail and two-way teleconferencing, Corey-Bey said. Also under way
is a pilot of the RealAudio player from RealNetworks of Seattle, so that users can view
videotape on demand over the intranet, Corey-Bey said.


“The media is becoming more rich for multimedia delivery of training,” he
said.


Corey-Bey sees Education’s distance-learning initiative as part of an overall
government effort. “The IRS [office in Austin, Texas] has one of the largest and
longest-running distance-learning initiatives,” he said. Defense agencies use
computers for simulation-based training, and the National Institutes of Health does
telemedicine training in surgical procedures, he said.


Education’s intranet also posts a full-text searchable news digest of articles
that mention the department. “We’re building a spider to go out and bring in the
content every morning,” Corey-Bey said.


The intranet contains an employee directory, schedules for shuttles between buildings,
schedules for PC replacement for year 2000 readiness, and information about
Education’s Debt Collection Service, Grants Policy and Oversight, and Initiative on
Race. Also on the intranet is an ethics training course.


Workgroups can conduct their own online discussion groups and read enterprisewide
messages on the intranet, reducing in-box clutter. But some employees do not use the
intranet as regularly as others, Corey-Bey said.  

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