I recently took several courses online at Element K. The Web site is a subsidiary of Ziff-Davis and offers over 500 online courses using both instructor-led and interactive self-study formats. In addition, the site offers an online reference library with IT-related articles from various sources.

One-year subscriptions to the online learning services range from $199 to $888, depending on the course “library” you select. The Office Productivity Library offers courses in software skills including MS Office, MS Windows, Lotus Notes, WordPerfect, and FrontPage for $199. For $599, the Computer Professional Library offers courses in Windows 2000, Windows NT, Java, A+, Linux, and course paths that can lead to Microsoft certification.

Plug in before you log in
Before you can use the site’s self-study courses, you must download and install LearnFlow and Shockwave v7.0.2 as plug-ins for your browser. You must also be running an operating system and browser compatible with the plug-ins. Compatible OS include Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT 4.0 or higher. Compatible browsers include Netscape Navigator 3.04 or higher and Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.02 or higher.

Take it easy and slow—or fast!
For ease of use, Element K gets a thumbs-up. Start at the Element K home page and click on the Buy Element K link. The course libraries are listed, and you can explore information about the courses and fees. The classes are easy to search and are divided into categories for browsing. The categories include Business, Database, Design, Desktop, Net User, Networking, Programming, and Webmaster. Icons to the left of each course denote whether it’s a self-study course or an instructor-led course.

Icons indicate the format and content of each class.

I took some of the self-study courses and was very impressed with the pre-class assessments: short, interactive quizzes associated with a particular course. I had to answer task-specific questions and was then given a list of the recommended lessons from that course. I saved time by only taking those portions of the course. I learned a few new tricks, it was fast, and I actually had fun.

The training is viewed in a pop-up browser window. The actual software for the course need not be installed on your computer because the course runs through your browser. The on-screen action was accompanied by a woman’s pleasant voice who guided me through the exercises. The information was presented in a logical, easy-to-follow format.

The Element K tutorial window

One problem with the courses was that if I clicked in the wrong place, the voice didn’t direct me to the correct location. There was a red arrow pointing to the proper button—which would seem to be enough—but I have a feeling that if I wasn’t already somewhat familiar with the software it might have been hard to follow.

Also, I didn’t really know if I had absorbed and understood the material until I logged out of Element K and practiced what I had learned on my own. (This is a good practice no matter what type of training you’re taking.) The good news is that you can always retake the course, or portions of it, if you find you don’t understand the material.

Tracking student progress
For those considering purchasing training for their staff, Element K offers a detailed attendance history screen that offers an easy way to track students’ progress. It logs specific times when the courses are started, the exact times they were in progress, and when they are completed. Once a course is completed, students can print out an Element K certificate of completion.

If you’re considering online training, Element K is definitely worth looking in to. The self-paced style and interactive training can provide many opportunities for learning.

Resources for online training decisions
To help you make your decision, Element K’s Web site offers the following downloads. You must use Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the files.

TechRepublic has also offered a number of articles related to online and Web-based training. If you’re researching places to purchase online training, read “These sites offer one-stop WBT shopping.” If you’re wondering where computer-based training, Web-based training or even a do-it-yourself training program might fit into your schedule, read “Finding time for training: CBT, WBT, and DIY.” If you need to motivate your staff to be diligent with their online training, Karen Cangero offers two effective strategies in “Motivating your students for WBT success.”
What types of online training have you experienced? What were the best and worst aspects? Do you use online training to help you prepare for your own instructor-led courses? Do you encourage your students to take part in WBT or CBT of any kind? We want to know! Send us your comments or post your thoughts below.