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pixel.gif (807 bytes) Training to be a publisher
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WE NOW KNOW what information has to be conveyed to on-line publishers, but what methods should we use to achieve the training? Well, there are three principal ways of meeting any training need – classroom training, self-study and on-job training. And all three have a part to play in providing on-line publishers with the skills they require:

Classroom training
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For the past eighteen months I have been using what are now called ‘traditional’ training methods to teach intranet content providers. Over a two-day course, we have provided a general introduction to the World Wide Web and intranets, skills in using the organisation’s chosen authoring software (typically Microsoft FrontPage) and a grounding in the design rules presented above. Classroom events have their pros and cons:

Pros
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Learners have the opportunity to interact directly with a subject matter expert
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Learners get away from job distractions
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Learners make contact with other intranet authors
Cons
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There can be a wide variability in the prior knowledge and experience of learners
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The training is not always available when and where it is needed

Self-study
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One of the prime advantages of an intranet is its ability to deliver training direct to the desktop. And what better way is there to demonstrate the benefits of the on-line medium than by using the technology itself? Materials are coming available now that provide a thorough grounding in the principles of on-line publishing in the form of short training modules for individual study at home or work (see Web pages that Work).

Self-study has it own unique pros and cons:

Pros
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The learning is self-paced, so differences between learners are of less significance
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Learners can access the training at a time and place that suits their needs
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Self-study can deliver results speedily and inexpensively
Cons
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Some learners may feel the need for a greater level of direct support
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Learners are denied the opportunity of learning from each other
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Not everyone has the self-discipline required for self-study

On-job training
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Learning on the job is usually derided as being no more than ‘sitting next to Nellie’, which is unfair on many Nellies out there, some of whom are not such bad trainers. It is true that much on-job training is unstructured, inefficient and passes on bad habits, but well trained instructors, mentors and coaches provide an invaluable service in the workplace.

Pros
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Learners can obtain a ‘personal service’, where the training is tailored to meet their needs
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Learners obtain personalised feedback
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The learning takes place in a familiar environment
Cons
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One-to-one training is much more expensive than other methods
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Can be poorly structured
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Instructors need subject matter expertise and training skills

A three pronged approach
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Of course, many organisations make available a variety of training methods to suit the learning styles and preferences of individual learners. It is possible to envisage a course for on-line publishers that uses all three methods at different stages; what I call the ‘trident’, or three-pronged approach:

  • self-study to get learners up to the same level of basic knowledge and understanding
  • workshops to provide an opportunity for discussion and guided practice
  • coaching (which can be on-line as well as face-to-face) to help learners put their new skills into practice
  • self study (again) for further reference and refresher training

Whichever method you choose, there are significant benefits to be achieved from the skilled application of web page design principles. In two studies at Sun Microsystems, measured usability was improved by 159% and 124% by rewriting content to conform to best practice guidelines.

History does not have to repeat itself. We can do much more than provide our on-line publishers with the tools of the trade, we can help them to learn from the experience of the thousands of web page designers that have preceded them. We can provide them with the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to create quality intranet content.

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1998. All rights reserved.                                 Last revised 2/11/98.