The IT industry is always changing and the role of the trainer evolves right along with it. We’ve been talking lately about Web-based training—how to use it and how to develop it, but another question came up recently in the forums: How does a trainer develop Web-based training skills? We asked TechRepublic members for their ideas on how to accomplish this task, and as usual, we got a lot of good suggestions. Read on to see how to move from a live environment to a virtual one.

That old standby: Learn by doing
John C. recently developed a training plan for his company’s major upgrade of its CAD engineering software and related programs. He wrote the training plan, the outlines, and the training material.

“Since I was conducting the training and writing the material, I was only one step ahead of my classes. I decided that since I was also publishing our site on the intranet, I would write the training material in the Web (HTML) editor. This way I could make revisions to the material as I went through the classes. This took a lot of work. Not only did I have to determine what to present and how to present it, I had to learn a great deal about Web publishing.

“My final product is beautiful in my eyes and very functional, with loads of hyperlinks, graphics, and effects. It was not Web-based training though. I still taught the classes in a computer lab, and printed out the outline and exercises for the students. They were instructed that this training material was there as a reference and backup for their notes.

“As far as Web-based training goes, I think it would work. I think I would need a better tool set to create much more interactive and useful training on the Web, so it’s not just a reference.”

Put yourself in the student’s shoes
KevinW. said he is currently working with video training research and using a product called Remotely Possible for distance learning, also known as e-learning. He said that simulating the online class from both the instructor’s and the student’s viewpoint has improved his Web teaching skills.

“I’ve had the advantage of using available classrooms for rehearsals of e-learning sessions. I log on to several workstations so I can view these as ‘student’ monitors. Then I ‘teach’ from the back of the room at a workstation where I can view what I’m doing and what the ‘students’ see. Being able to see the cause and effect in my delivery has allowed me to improve my skills as an e-instructor. I’ve taught several instructors this way and have conducted training from San Antonio to London using these procedures.

“Several other instructors have tried to just step into the e-learning environment without rehearsal and failed miserably. Understanding that it does take a revised skill set to deliver e-training is the important first step. Taking the time to improve proficiency of those skills is the next.”

Limitations of the Web
Barry O., a standup MCSE instructor with an MCT, has been an online student, and he was not impressed by the experience. His school is moving all their classes to the Internet, and he is worried about the loss of face-to-face interaction between students and instructors.

“They had the instructors join as students on the online course that they had developed (one to two sessions as an instructor). The classes lasted for three weeks (evening 3 hrs).

“I am going to have a bad time trying to teach on the Internet , there is no real student teacher interface, just chat room style discussions. The discussions are live during class time and you can e-mail questions and answers during off hours.

“I did not make a good student and I am going to have a hard time converting over. There is nothing like looking someone in the face and seeing if they got it or not. I am really going to miss that personal contact. I am now thinking about pursuing a career in the field.”

Rethinking the roles of students and instructors
Bob A., program director at an online university in California, said that he has been conducting classes online for several years now, and has tried various venues as the Internet and the Web have matured. Now he oversees an entire online program as an administrator. He said that teachers and students have to make adjustments and drop their assumptions.

“In a train-the-trainers seminar, I usually ask, ‘What makes a successful learning experience?’ One of the items mentioned is interaction among teachers and students. Probably the greatest challenge we face online is to re-engineer how we encourage participation. Computers are formal and cold. You have to work harder at creating a conversation than in a live class. There are no visual cues.

“I’ve tried a number of things to create interactivity, but there are no all-purpose techniques. I’ve used guest lecturers to create an interview situation, where I upload the first 10 questions and then the students join in. Create teams in the classroom so small groups can cooperate on a project to present to the class.”
As the options for Web-based training change and expand, so will the job opportunities for trainers. As always, there will be new software to learn and new skills to develop to stay on top of the profession. What do you see in the future for IT training jobs? Send us your predictions of the future of your industry.