CXO

Learning portals: Tips on using them wisely

There is a lot of online training on the Web, but finding high-quality courses can be a challenge. Karen Cangero has selected several good training portals worth visiting and gathered advice about how to use these Web sites and assess their products.


As we can well appreciate, the Internet has brought sweeping improvements and advancements to many walks of life. As trainers, we are lucky enough to work in an industry that benefits tremendously from the Internet's technological advances. We can arrange for multimedia, interactive, and on-demand training on virtually any topic without ever leaving our desks. Choices abound, from specialty vendors to one-stop shopping learning portals.

The problem is, who has time to search through all the sites that provide training? Some are excellent, most are passable, and a few are not even worth a visit. Trying to visit each possible training site can easily take up more hours than we have to devote to work, but not exploring the wealth of choices out there can shortchange your organization. For busy training professionals, learning portals offer lots of choices—in both content and format.

According to Bill Rosenthal, President of kaplancollege.com, portals are most useful for people who have at least a general idea of what they want and who are interested in quickly sifting through lots of choices.

"For a trainer, a portal is a fast, efficient way to find lots of products in the selected category, making the process of evaluating and purchasing training products easier,” he said.

Learning portals worth a visit
Thinq (formerly TrainingNet) brings together training offerings from over 3,000 training providers, allowing trainers to easily explore learning opportunities. If finding the right training solution remains a challenge, Thinq's RFP Exchange will get you a fast proposal for custom and onsite learning through its network of over 250 providers. Plus, Thinq offers IT certification and has joined forces with the American Management Association to combine both organizations' formidable training offerings.

Headlight is an e-learning powerhouse for small and medium-sized businesses, featuring training products from a wide variety of training publishers. Visit Headlight and specify your training needs by topic, price, bandwidth, or learning approach. Plus, Headlight offers a comprehensive suite of free services, including free skills assessments and free courses.

LeapIt serves as a professional development one-stop shop for IT professionals. It provides tools an IT professional needs for career advancement—from assessment of one's goals to training to certification. Plus, LeapIt goes beyond supplying training. The site features up-to-date certification information, the latest on industry news, and career advancement opportunities. The site offers learning tools and provides continual self-assessment and tracking towards certification and other goals. Their custom ad server and e-commerce system tracks the time IT professionals spend in courses and offers products and services. This feature allows LeapIt to offer its training with no fee paid by the user.

Intraware markets its IT training offerings to large companies. In addition to training from a variety of big-name vendors, Intraware has several learning management tools for training managers and subscription-based and free journals on technical issues, business practices, and e-learning.

EdShop offers IT education-related information and products from various IT vendors. The site features 4,500 Web-based and computer-based technical courses from a variety of vendors who offer courses that fit any training budget. Links take you to several industry news sites or to other techie destinations on the Web. They also offer free technical consulting/support on any IT education-related question.

Global Best Practices by Arthur Andersen is an innovative learning database. Instead of offering courses and other training materials, Global Best Practices captures and shares information on how best to manage and improve over 150 critical business processes, including operations and management/support systems. The tools, tutorials, and examples have been likened to an interactive MBA course.

Free Edu's founder believes that access to education is a right, not a privilege, and has assembled an impressive collection of free courses covering business and computing skills. It's technically not a portal, but it has a nice variety of courses and you can't beat the price.

What makes a portal good?
Susan Leandri, managing director of Global Best Practices for Arthur Andersen, advises trainers to look for more than what is offered by the one-stop shopping. She said that a good portal will provide the user with a framework to experience the learning based on the work environment. Leandri also values consistency.

"The experience must be the same,” she said. “Only the specific content should change, not the categories or tools."

She contends that this consistency shortens learning curves, as learners only have to learn the format and experience once.

Looking forward
As technology continues to sprint forward, expect innovations that allow training providers and learning portals to truly provide complete training solutions.

"In the future, trainers might expect more options to interact with students—synchronous/asynchronous, video, voice—and more options for students to interact with each other," Rosenthal said.

He also thinks that trainers might see smarter online learning systems that provide greater support in the teaching process, such as grading assistance programs, automatic class reminders for students, question and answer databases, and more.

Whatever direction they head, learning portals are here to stay. Explore the sites that are out there based on the needs of your organization. Keep your eyes open for new portals offering new or expanded services and products. Talk to other training professionals and learn which portals have been particularly helpful to those in your industry. Learning portals, when used wisely, represent a great return on the investment of your research time.
Is there one training-related site that you use frequently? Which one has the best design? Send us your recommendations so we can share them with other TechRepublic members.

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