You’ve seen the hype for distance learning products: “Online training is an inexpensive alternative to classroom learning.” Or, “The typical distance learning class combines the structure of the classroom with the convenience and self-directed pacing of self-study.”

Each product promises to cure all your training woes and make the learning seem as easy as pie. Don’t eat that piece of lemon meringue just yet—do your homework before selecting the distance learning products for your enterprise. Know your company’s needs, and find out which features will best fit those needs before filling out that purchase request.

Let the questions begin
Consider these factors when hunting for the right distance learning product for your enterprise:

  • What are the expenses for additional hardware and software you might need? The company provides prices for its software, but it’s the extras that’ll make your jaw drop.
  • How will the initial product software be installed on remote employees’ workstations? A remote employee may have to wait as long as four hours for an entire download to be completed. If a download is the only option, employees may become so frustrated by the initial time invested that they may refuse to take any courses via the new CBT. Sending out an installation CD will make everyone’s life much easier.
  • Define your list of desired features. Live distance learning refers to live courses that are delivered via satellite or cable, and it’s considered the next big trend. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the features offered, such as AppShare, Whiteboard, and Glancing. Of course, as the quality and quantity of features increase, so does the price tag. If all you need is a way to conduct a basic meeting remotely and you won’t be utilizing all the bells and whistles of a complex live distance learning product, consider purchasing a video-conferencing system instead.
  • Once you’ve found a product, involve remote employees in the evaluation process. Research the product to find out if it’s compatible with employees’ workstations and peripheral equipment. For companies who allow employees to purchase any line and brand of computer equipment under the sun, this may take awhile. Have patience; it causes more headaches later if you find out that some people can’t use the new system because of incompatible hardware. Most problems can be detected during pilot testing.

If you have recently purchased a distance learning product for your training organization, please let us know what you bought and what factors you considered in making your decision. Post your comments at the end of this article or send us a note .
How will you handle the spontaneity of live learning?
If you’ve decided that live distance learning will be your strategy, a word of caution as you begin your search. Many of these live products claim to be spontaneous training efforts but in fact take considerable preparation time for administrators and instructors. These products sound good in the ads but don’t always offer basic features such as AppShare.

Dial-up technology has not caught up with the complex requirements of some of these products. Staying connected on a session for long periods of time can be a gamble. However, to compensate for this, many of the products now have an archiving feature that allows you to go back and review material in the class.

A couple of relatively new products are a mix between CBT and live distance learning. Live instruction and chats are conducted online, and then the course transitions to a CD for exercises, video pieces, and reading material—resulting in fewer migraines for many remote users.

Susanne E. Krivanek is a training coordinator/analyst for Systems & Computer Technology Corp. , Education Solutions Division, which specializes in the development of software product training and certification programs. She has a training background in brokerage software, office applications, and business entrepreneurship, and she speaks on maximizing training effectiveness.